Awake and Sing III
              created 1/12, end 2/14
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        Here's a quote about the value of theater from a PBS producer that reflects my views too....

        "I'm a big theatergoer. I love the drama, the music and lyrics, the passion, the bright lights and the chance to experience inspired performances unclose." (Jon Abbot, producer of the upcoming PBS series 'Broadway or Bust', Sept 2012)
Jan 2012 weekend theater trip to NYC
        Closing of Billy Elliot (Sun, Jan 8, 2012) + forecast for good weather (warm for Jan) + low hotel costs (Edison Hotel about 1/3rd summer cost) prompted a weekend trip to NYT to see four shows. Bought all my tickets online night before leaving, and for reasons hard to understand (all four shows were packed) got excellent seats for every show: 10th row center (Billy Elliot, premium price), 1st row center (Anything Goes), 5th row (Wicked and Seminar). Billy Elliot is the first and only time I have ever paid premium price for NY show, and this time only because show was closing. (Two days earlier for Billy I had been offered 8th row at regular price).

Billy Elliot
      Since it opened in 2009, I must have seen Billy Elliot something like 8 or 9 times, and it's still terrific. Best show on Broadway for the last three years. Two powerful, emotional interwoven stores (Billy and coal miners) with lots of razzle dazzle numbers, good score, and spectacular post-bow finish. The couple sitting next to me were obviously thrilled (jumping up and down), so at end I talked to them and turns out they were the parents of the small boy in the show. Really sad to see this close, I suspect the problem is its high weekly running cost since the cast is huge, but more to come since a (probably scaled down) Billy is going to run 3-4 weeks in Boston this summer.

        The scene near the close of the show as the miners are going back into the mine after losing their year-long strike is fantastic. The theater is totally dark except for the headlamps of the miners, so all you see is this forest of lights and light beams. Then the loud, huge iron gate is heard to close, the elevator starts, and the head lanps sink out of sight (into the ground) riding down an elevator stage rear as the miners sing Elton John's stirring strike anthem ('All as one'). Powerful stuff, great theater.

Billy with girls, Mrs Wikerson and policemen
 source -- Billy Elliot web site

down into the mine
stage lit only by miner headlamps
source -- screen capture from video on Billy Elliot tour web site

        I tried to get into the last performance, but it was sold out. I later found out that it would have been a strange performance, because all three Billys (and probably Michaels) alternated scenes during the show. On Fri night when I was there, the whole audience was cheering the show on.

My Billy Elliot gallery
        This gallery gives the flavor of the show with still images captured from various productions contained in promo videos on the Billy Elliot web site. A total of 39 moderate resolution images.

Pirated Billy Elliot videos (uploaded by windinthewillowfan ? macmacmacauley, each 9 min, NY production)

    April 22, 2008 David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish (first three Billys) for 2009 Broadway launch. Here you can  see what good dancers they are.  480 dpi (6 min).  2009 Tony performance (Trent Kowalik angry dance, 720p, 4 min), 2009 three Billys sing on Regis ? Kelly, Razzle Dazzle @ Macy parade (720p, 4 min), Promo videos #1(father song, 1 min), #2 (Solidarity 1 min)

Billy Eliot (complete)
        'ForbiddenHeartz' has recorded all of the NY Billy Eliot (from balcony), and he posted it July 2011 on YouTube in numbered segments (a few hundred to a few thousand views):

(update 11/9/12)
        Most of these videos have been pulled from YouTube due to a claim of copyright violation, even though the NY show closed at the beginning of 2012. Yet incredibly #2, #3, and #4 are still alive. Ah, yes, quality control!

        #1    start of show, miners go out on strike, 1st Billy song (little boy shadows Billy)
        #2    home scene (fried egg and pastie), boxing class
        #3    Billy's 1st dance class (Razzle Dazzle and Shine),  1st grandma song (partial)
        #4   grandma song (finish), row of policeman, 2nd dance class, Solidarity Forever
        #5     2nd class (finish), Solidarity Forever, father pulls Billy out of class
       #6    'Do you fancy me miss?', Billy and Michael tap number
       #7    brings items for dance, and song by his mother, "she was just my mum"
       #8   Mr. Braithwiate speeches and dances, first personal dance instruction, "show you my yahoo"
       #9    father won't let him leave for audition, enraged tap dance with police (end of act 1)
      #10   (start of act 2) Happy Chistmas Maggie Thatcher, father sings at Maggie Thatcher birthday bash
      #11   Billy with Michael ("Just because I like ballet doen't mean I'm a puff"), Billy says I've packed it in. Dance with chair
                             and senior Billy. his father sees him and sees he's been wrong
      #12    father visits home of dance teacher, becomes a scab to get money for Billy, "We don't know how far he can go"
      #13    miners give donations for audition, "We will always stand together", on stage at Royal Ballet
      #14    audition at Royal Ballet, Billy sings and dances 'Electricity'
      #15    finish of dance at Royal Ballet, awaiting word from school, he gets in
      #16   Billy returns to Mrs. Wilkinson's class with news, powerful finale as minors put on helments and go down, mother returns
      #17    sees and sings with mum again, tap dance finale by whole cast

      finale(best quality, Tommy Batchelor - Finale - 08-15-2010)
     finale (Trent Kowalik's Final curtain call)
      finale (London?)

     Wicked is a big show (somewhat in the Superman vein) with a lots of big effects (tableau at the end of act 1, 'Defying Gravity' is spectacular, especially the lighting). This time I followed the plot, two leads (Chandra Lee Schwarz as Glinda and Jackie Burns as Elphaba) were excellent, but it drags too often (I counted four boring solos on bare stage), and the core is weak: unremarkable score (except for 'Popular') and dancers move around a lot, but don't do real dancing. It's not bad, but not the kind of show that I want to see again anytime soon.

End of act 1 tableau
(poor quality image on Wicked web site)

Anything Goes
       'Anything Goes' was fun with bright set, and lots of famous songs (Cole Porter) and dance numbers led by the terrific Sutton Foster who really sings and dances well. But it's been oversold and overrated. It's a 1934 musical and that means a totally silly plot.

Times Sq billboard

outside theater

Anything Goes video with Sutton Foster --- great (pirated) tap dance number with good quality (7 min).

There are other Sutton Foster links related to Anything Goes on YouTube, like her 2011 Tony speech and and 8 min Anthing Goes rehearsal.

       Was not disappointed by Seminar. This is a new play by Theresa Rebeck, starring Alan Rickman opened in Oct about an older writer hired by four young writers to tutor them. I've seen stuff by Rebeck ('The Scene') before, she is a good writer. Audience loved it. One of the men looked familiar, and eventually I remembered he was the guy who played Christine's brother on TV's 'New Adventures of Christine' (Hamish Linklatter).

        This show throws in some gratuitous sex to spice things up. In 1st act the chinese girl (Hettienne Park) pulls up her shirt for a few minutes to show her breasts. In the 2nd act the other girl (Lily Rabe) walks out in a shortie nightgown while Rickman goes on about she has "been sucking his balls", and as she turns and walks off she pulls up her gown to show her bare bum.

Hettienne Park, Hamish Linklatter, Alan Rickman,  Lily Rabe, and Jerry O'Connell
cast of Seminar (Jan 2012)

Hamish Linklatter and Lily Rabe
(left Seminar, right on red carpet summer 2010)

Student Rehearsal schedule
        Here is the winter 2012 Stoneham Young Company rehearsal schedule for HS kids production of Stephan Sondheims's 'Into the Woods'.  As someone who has (almost) never performed the amount of work is impressive, and it goes a long way towards explaining why first performances are almost always so clean.

                    4   music rehearsals (4 hr each)
                  11   show hehearsals (4 hr each)
                    3   tech rehearsals onstage (4 to 5 hr each)
                    3   dress rehearsals (4 to 5 hr each)
                    1   student warm up performance (first audience)
                         five performance run begins followed by cast party (call one hour before curtain)

The Voice of the Turtle @ Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Lowell MA
        Voice of the Turtle by John Van Drusen is a wonderful old romantic comedy that I had never heard of. Opening in 1943 about a solder on leave in Manhattan and his romance with a young actress, it played until 1948 of Broadway, one of the longest runs ever for a play. It apparently was sexually adventuresome in its time with mention of sex and discussion of having affairs, but in present times is G rated.

        Nicely detailed period set and costumes with a view out the window of a NYC roof scene with changing lighting. Both leads (Hanley Smith and William Connell) were very good, but the delight of the production is Hanley Smith. She is young, beautiful, and plays a naive, inexperienced, slightly ditzy girl in such a way it was impossible not to be charmed.  Terry Byrne of the Boston Globe thought so too:

"Hanley Smith gives Sally such an open-hearted delivery that it’s impossible not to be charmed by her." (Boston Globe)

         This show had been brought back from the dead by director Carl Forsman (Keen Company director). In 2001 he did a revival of it in a small theater downtown (Off, Off Broadway), and a decade later Merrimack has given him the opportunity to mount it again. He brought with him Megan Byrne (Olive Lashbrooke) who I found out at a talk-back with the actors played the same role in 2001. Hanley Smith has a very thin bio, apparently graduated from college in 2007. She is also a singer and below got an excellent review in an off Broadway  musical (just 7 performances scheduled) in which she starred. She is an up and coming actress (? singer) and a delight on stage with her bubbly personality and nice manner.

Hanley Smith and William Connell in Merrimack Rep’s “The Voice of the Turtle", Jan 2012
(photo credit: Megan Moore)

Hanley Smith and Megan Byrne
(photo credit: Megan Moore)

Nice hires video trailor of the Merrimack production (screen captures below)

screen capture from Merrimack video trailor

screen capture from Merrimack video trailor

        An example of Ms. Smith's charm and acting skill was her making up the couch into a bed. This is interesting? Yup, it was when Ms Smith did it, in fact, it was a little gem. I saw the play twice and her delight in having someone 'to do for' was palpable as she flitted around the couch throwing the sheet, tucking here, tucking there, and you could tell from the audience reaction that everyone felt this.

        Hanley Smith radiates her bubbly personality in these two videos. The first is from Merrimack with all the cast and director talking about the show and the second a short facebook video

Hanley Smith 2010 review
      "Princess Clementine, performed by the supremely talented singer and actress Hanley Smith, meets a frog she is determined to turn into a prince, and in doing so, Smith brings a multi-dimensional character to the fore—a unique mix of dumb blonde and probing intellectual, confidence and awkwardness, a combination of pomposity and sincerity along the lines of Meg Ryan’s character in “When Harry Met Sally”. Her voice is always on pitch and lovely in all aspects of the Broadway and coloratura range." (from Review of Frog's Kiss, NY Musical Theater Festival fall 2010, 42nd St)
Movie too
        I didn't realize 'The Voice of the Turtle' had been made into a movie (1947) until I stumbled onto excerpts on YouTube. Didn't recognize the actress playing Sally (Eleanor Parker), but Eve Arden is Olive Lashbrooke, and guess who played the soldier? Ronald Reagan....

Photograph 51@Central Square Theater, Cambridge MA
        I love technical plays, and this one I really enjoyed. I was there opening night, and will probably see it again. It's a new play by Anna Ziegler that lays out step by step the decoding of the DNA molecule by Watson and Crick. The drama is provided by the strained working relationship between the two x-ray crystallographers, Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins who are the core of the play. Watson and Crick sort of buzz around with the guy playing Watson dead on, a little guy with his wild hair. Franklin's grad student acts as a narrator and a Yale crystallographer comes over to work with Franklin for a few months and provides a brief love interest.

        Nominally Franklin and Wilkins were partners, but Franklin was very prickly and methodical and insisted on working alone. She took the x-ray photograph, which as the title ('photograph 51') was the key to cracking the structure of DNA showing those who knew how to read these patterns that the molecule was not just a helix, but a double helix. Watson and Crick got a look at her photograph and ran with it quickly making a model and submitting a brief letter (few paragraphs), which is famous for its classic understatement (I read it years ago). Watson in his book lists a bunch of reasons why what he and Crick did was ethical, why they didn't steal Franklin's data.

        Watson, Crick and Wilkins share the nobel prize, and a question has long hung in the air about whether Franklin got screwed out of the credit she deserved. Franklin died very young (age 37) from ovarian cancer, and the play hints that the tumors (in both ovaries) were because of her long working with x-ray beams and perhaps being careless around them. The play seems to hint (maybe it was more specific) that she died before the Nobel prizes were awarded. I was sort of expecting from what I read about the play and its title that there would be a strong feminist streak in the play arguing that Franklin got screwed, but that was not the case. Very balanced, and detailed, key dates are given over a couple of years, presentation, with valid speculation at the end as to how things might have turned out differently for Franklin is she had been less prickly and more of a partner, had realized it was a race (with Linus Pauling at Caltech), had taken some chances (by making models) and not worked so slowly and methodically.

        Owen Doyle, who I have seen many times (just this Christmas he was the 'old man' in Christmas story at New Rep), plays Wilkins as a troubled sole shuffling about. Becky Webber (new to me) is Rosaland Franklin and Jason Powers as Watson. Wilkins technical contribution (whatever it was) gets virtually no mention in the play.

Becky Webber (as biophysicist Rosalind Franklin) and Nick Sulfaro (as her assistant Ray Gosling)
in 'Photograph 51', a Nora Theatre Company production at Central Square theater (Feb 2012)
(photo credit --- A.R. Sinclair)

          Jason Powers as Watson and Becky Webber as Rosaland Franklin                                         playbill graphic
in Nora Theater company production of 'Photograph 51' (Feb 2012)

Watson and Crick showing incorrect model (phosphate backbone here inside) to Franklin and Wilkins
(not Central Sq production, NYC?)

        Zieler's web site lists the good reviews garnered by early productions (it will be produced three times in 2012):

        Among the many virtues of Anna Ziegler’s ... satisfying “Photograph 51" is the refusal to soften the woman at its center, the British scientist Rosalind Franklin, by making her anything other than formidably, even self-sabotagingly, intelligent… The play offers multiple insights into the sad and honorable secrets of one particular life.” – NY Times
        “A powerful new play…Ziegler has produced a witty and poignant account of the controversy surrounding DNA’s discovery.” — Nature
        “A smartly crafted history play…The reflections that gradually color the play deal with the eternal human mystery of why people act as they do — the very stuff of drama, of course.” – Editor’s Pick, The Washington Post
My background research (with dates)
        In Jan (or Feb) 1953 Watson visited King's College and Wilkins showed him a high quality image of the B-form x-ray diffraction pattern, now identified as photograph 51, that Franklin (age 31) (or her graduate assistant Gosling) had produced about six months earlier. (Note, Franklin had had this photo for six months. In the play Gosling brings the photo to Franklin, they both see it shows a double helix, and then she sets it aside.) Watson in his 2003 book says he first considered a structure with same base on both sides (A with A, T with T, etc).  Next he tried pairing A with T, C with G, but he worked for two weeks and could not get the pairs to mate properly. A visiting chemist (from CalTech) asks him where he got the base structure and he says from a textbook. Chemist tells him the base structure is 'wrong'. In my research I find the difference in the two forms is just one hydrogen atom different, but this H was made one of the hydrogen bonds, so it was critical.
        Watson and Crick publish in Nature April 1953 (with supporting articles in same issue by Franklin and Wilkins). Article is famous partly because it is so understated. A month later they publish on how the molecule splits apart and replicates. Franklin dies five years later 1958 (age 37), Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine to Watson, Crick and Wilkins in 1962. In later years Watson says Franklin and Crick become good friends and Franklin convalesced from her cancer surgery at Crick and his wife's house. Friendly letters to Watson from Franklin (asking for his help on technical matters) have been found in Watson's files.
Wilkins' and others contributions
        Wilkins discovered that it was possible to produce thin threads from this concentrated DNA solution that contained highly ordered arrays of DNA suitable for the production of x-ray diffraction patterns. Wikipedia says, "Wilkins then led the team that performed a range of meticulous experiments to establish the helical model rigorously." Crick word the math and knew how to read x-ray crystallographic pictures. A biology professor from MIT said at a post play discussion, was marveling that Crick and Franklin to read the photos had to do (two dimensional spacial) fourier transforms by hand.

Postscript --- students see play
        I was at the play on opening night. A few days later I realized that students from my hometown would benefit from seeing it, so I worked to make this happen, and it did. It almost didn't come off, because initially the timing was bad. When I contacted the school, the week long winter vacation was just about to start, which left only a few days upon return to organize a field trip, not enough time (probably). But as luck would have it, the play was a hit and was extended two weeks, this opened up a new block of tickets and largely solved the timing problem.

        Before leaving for the theater I briefed 35 students for 30 min on the science and the play, and then went with them (in the yellow school bus!) to see the play again. Enjoyed the play even more on a second viewing, and in this small intimate Central Square Theater you can see how good the acting is (by the whole cast). I knew I wanted to see this play again, so in its last weekend when I was in already in Cambridge I went for 3rd time. Three viewings of straight play, no intermission (hour and 40 min) and still terrific. It is a very good play, true to the history and science, fair and balanced, holds your interest for over an hour and a half, very well acted. And like a good play should it provides a wealth of perspectives on what happened, about Franklin's treatment and character, and whether or not Watson and Crick acted honorably.

(update Sept 2015)
        Photograph 51 has begun a limited run in London's West End with Nicole Kidman as Rosalind Franklin. Ben Brantley's good review in the NYT is almost entirely about Kidman with nary a mention of DNA and its decoding, which is, of course, its central story and why it is such an interesting scientific play.

Young Company Winter season @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        Saw two of the three 2012 winter season productions of the Young Company: Sondheim's 'Into the Wood' (HS students) and 'Beauty and Beast' (middle schools students), both well done with a fantastic collection of costumes for Beauty and the Beast. I have seen 'Into the Woods' before and it is not one of my favorite shows, a few plot twists bring these fairy tales up the adult level (barely), but ohy, Sondheim's music for this show. Somehow (!) I had always on trips to NYC avoided seeing the long running Beauty and the Beast on Broadway and good thing, it's Disney's animated (I guess) children's story just transferred to the stage. Not one memorable song.

The Addams Family @ Shubert Theater, Boston MA
        The Addams Family ran for about a year and a half (Apr 2010 to Dec 2011) right next door (literally) to the Edison Hotel in NYC. Because the reviews were not good and it seemed kind of silly, I it was always near the bottom of my 'to see' list, so I never got to it, even though Nathan Lane was the star. Well, the national tour arrived in Boston Feb 2012 for a two week run, and a YouTube excerpt shows some good dance and singing numbers, and I was able to get a 5th row aisle seat, so I went.

        The show is fun. I remember the critics saying the story was poor, well that's beside the point. It has barely any plot at all, what plot is does have is pretty much the same plot of the BirdCage! Their normal daughter is getting married, his parents come to meet the in-laws and daddy is in a tizzy because he made a promise to his daughter to hide the news of the upcoming marriage and that gets into him into hot water with his wife. That's the 'plot', but the plot is just a  wispy thread to tie together a bunch of fun dance and song numbers plus a bunch of clever bits.

        The best of which is Uncle Fester (Blake Hammond) flying around a darkened stage singing 'The Moon and Me' lets akimo (very funny), and from the 5th row impossible to see how it was done. The quick bit with chair that has 'rip up your privates' blade pop up from the seat was funny. No songs or dance numbers great, but score was tuneful and the dance numbers had fun choreography. Curtain was used very creatively throughout the show with many different drapes, often just exposing half the stage. Another clever bit was the huge dragon slowing coming out from under a bed traveling across the stage. A surprise twist was tall ungainly Lurch, who has only grunted all through the show, turns out to have a great voice at the finale (Tom Corbeil bio says he's an opera singer).

Not the same as the Broadway show.....
        Doing a little research on the show I came across this.
        It's now coming to light that what the producer and creative team unleashed on the haunted Louisiana city — and now in cities beyond — is not the current Broadway property, but a new, undead, refreshed, Frankenstein-monster of a musical comedy with a new central plot conflict, new or revised or reordered songs to replace old ones, fresh orchestrations and dance where necessary, and perhaps a little more sexual chemistry than audiences got in the critically dismissed 2010 Broadway version that first starred Bebe Neuwrith as Morticia and Nathan Lane as Gomez.
        The long article below details how the original director was fired during out of town tryouts and veteran director Jerry Zaks brought in to try and fix the show, but he was only to partly do so in the four months between the Chicago tryouts and Broadway opening. The tour playbill says, "Entire production under the direction of Jerry Zaks", so given a 2nd chance Zaks and the whole creative team have taken the opportunity to fix the show, to make the changes they wished they had had time to make before Broadway. For example, the conflict between Gomez and Mortia (song, 'I'm Trapped) is totally new. The article says once they figured out in 2011 the changes they wanted, they considered shutting down the NY show for a few days in early 2012 to put them in (revised after 1.5 years!), but ticket sales were too weak for the show to go on. Rees and Shields, the leads in the NY show, were all for it.

Here's Zak on the flying Fester number (he inherited)

        "From the moment I saw it in Chicago, it was one of those 'How did they do that?' moments," Zaks said. "It goes right to your primitive love of magic — he's flying! I don't see any wires, and I purposely refuse to find out — my assistants did — how he did it. It wasn't until we got into the rehearsal room that I went, 'Wow.' And, it is magic. And, because it's so extraordinarily theatrical and consistent with this storyline, it exists as a delightful interlude. All great entertainment, I think, earns the right for an interlude, as long as it's not wildly off-subject. He [stated] his affection for the moon, and we know about it, and all of a sudden he shows up and sings a love song…"  The retained sequence got roars of approval on the opening night in The Big Easy.
      The show featured two of my old favorites: Blake Hammond (Uncle Fester) and Crista Moore (mother of the Wednesday's boyfriend). Blake was the best Edna Turnblad ever and is in photo above bringing down the house as Nicely Nicely Johson in Ogunquit's Guys and Dolls, and his personality shows through here too even though he is pretty much covered up with clown white face mask. Crista Moore was the Captain's girlfriend in Ogunguit's Sound of Music. The pictures in the playbill of both of them are nearly unrecognizable, they look like they were taken 20 years ago.

        The central character of the show is Gomez (Nathan Lane role), but the night I was there it was played by one of the two understudies, Brad Nacht. He was, however, very good. His bio lists him as swing (which I think means he gets paid whether he performs or not), and he has no role in the show, he understudies Gomez, Uncle Fester, and Mal (normal husband). I inquired at intermission if he had played the role a lot and was told just the night before because the male lead (Douglas Sills) had wrenched his back. The female lead (Bebe Neuwirth and later Brooke Shields role) was Sara Gettlefinger. She has a strong bio, and is a competent performer, but she never connected with the audience (at least with me) always seeming distant. The super low cut Morticia dress, which on Bebe and Neuwirth just provided a deep flat cleavage, here displays half her breasts all evening. The dress and breasts must be glued together as nothing ever shifted.

Adams Family national tour cast (Feb 2012)
Blake Hammond (as Uncle Fester) is right

Wednesday (Cortney Wolfson) singing and torturing Pugley (to his delite)

ancestor dancers all in ghostly white

close of show where man in moon image slows appears
(after Fester is seen penetrating it with a rocket strpped to his back)

(left) Bebe Neuwirth, who originate the role of Morticia
(right) Brooke Shields who replaced Bebe for last 5 months of NY run

Boston Ballet's Simply Sublime @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA
        A repertory evening. Three pieces, all with different styles, all beautifully danced, billed as

Florence Clerc's Les Sylphides after Michel Fokine
Christopher Wheeldon's Polyphonia
George Balanshine's Symphony in Three Movements (music by Stravinsky)
        The dancing and images of Les Sylphide were beautiful in large measure because of the wonderful dancing and exquisite tableaus of the corp. Also a nice backdrop and clean dancing by Nelson Madrigal with Lorna Feudo (his wife I think), Erica Cornejo, and (moving up) Whitney Jensen.

        I've seen a lot of Balanshine's works, but never this piece. Maybe because it requires a huge cast, 32 dancers divided into two groups of 16. Nice Balanshine/Stavinsky piece led by James Whiteside and Kathleen Breen Combes. I was in 2nd row and noticed that principal Kathleen Combes is quite beautiful.

        The middle piece was Polyphonia (2001) by New York City ballet resident choreographer Christopher Wheeldon for four couples. Some sections were fast and exciting. My first viewing, big audience applause.

Boston Ballet in Balanshine's Symphony in Three Movements
(every extended right leg is perfect)  (Feb 2012)

Boston Ballet in Balanshine's Symphony in Three Movements
Spectacular curtain up view

Boston Ballet in Balanshine's Symphony in Three Movements (Feb 2012)
(hidef video screen capture from a rippling down the line)

Boston Ballet's Les Sylphides (Feb 2012)
(see the little wings on the back of every dress)

And the Sun Stood Still @ Central Square Theater, Cambridge MA
        (Feb 2012) I like technical plays, and they are rare. Central Square theater is near MIT and has an association with it, so it provides a continuing source of technical plays and helps in their development. Last year saw a play about computer pioneer and WWII code breaker Alan Turing, and this year 'Photograph 51' about the discovery of DNA molecule by Crick, Watson, Wilkins and Franklin.

      'And the Sun Stood Still' was not a fully staged play, but a play reading. Actually it was more than that, it was partially staged, but without props or costumes. It is about (Catholic) cannon Copernicus and a young (Lutheran) mathematician, Rheticus, who came to visit him and who convinced him to publish, and helped him prepare the text. The play is by former NYT science reporter Dava Sobel, who wrote the book Galileo's Daughter, and before the play when I had no idea who she was talked for a long time to the people sitting next to me. She and famous Harvard astronomer, Owen Gringrich, who I had never seen before, led a discussion of the play afterward. Gringrich is a Copernican scholar.

        The play has some interesting moments, but I thought there was too much non-scientific padding. The purpose of much of the padding was to show the religious context (nearly 200 years of religious war had begun), to highlight the risk that Rheticus, a Protestant, was taking in coming into Catholic region of Poland to help a Catholic, who in fact was a cannon of a cathedral. Gringrich is a scholar of Copericus and litttle is know of him personally or this meeting, so Sobel felt a drama was a good way to present this history. I agree, certainly I was only vaguely aware of this history.

Danny Long Legs @ Merrimack Theater, Lowell MA
        I saw a very nice, new, small scale musical last night: 'Danny Long Legs', in development (sort of) making the rounds of regional theaters. The same cast, musical director and set too have had runs in about ten cities over the last three years. The show is still being tweaked. The book author and director (John Caird) is a big time director, known for Les Mis and a couple of other Broadway musicals.  I liked the music, very low key and subtle, about two dozen songs all by Paul Gordon who had a Tony nominated musical on Broadway about ten years ago. Only two persons in cast, but it is real book musical, not a review.

        Megan McGinnis is featured and nicely tells the charming story with naration and letters to her unknown benefactor, who she asssumes (incorrectly) is old and names 'Daddy Long Legs'.

        Well received at Merrimack, excellent reviews, orchestra usually sold out, which for Merrimack is very unusual. I ended up in last row of orchestra, which took away some pleasure, because it was difficult to see faces clearly. Performers are both young. Megan McGinnis, whose bio says she sang Epoine in Les Mis on Broadway and was also in Little Women and Beauty ? Beast on Broadway, and Robert Adelman Hancock, who has a much thinner bio, but was in the National Tour of Mamma Mia. Both had nice voices. His not particularly strong, but it blended beautifully with hers. Good acting too. There are so many songs that probably about half the show is sung.

Robert Adelman Hancock and Megan McGinnis
in new (two person) musical Daddy Long Legs
at Merrimack, Feb 2012

Robert Adelman Hancock and Megan McGinnis

"Daddy Long Legs is a tender romance, and Megan McGinnis makes it impossible to resist" --- Boston Globe
        "Like the novel, the musical is told through Jerusha’s one-way correspondence with her anonymous benefactor, but what might appear to be a limiting structure becomes an entire world in the hands of the luminous Megan McGinnis. Not only does she create a believable character who grows from a na?f into an intelligent, independent young woman; she also serves as an enchanting storyteller and singer."
Boston Ballet's Play with Fire @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA
        Play with Fire is another evening of modern works in 2012 spring season: Sharper Side of Dark, by resident choreographer Jorma Elo, Bella Figura replay of a work done last season by Juri Kylian with topless dancers and real fire (scary risk in a theater), and Rooster by Christopher Bruce to music of Rolling Stones. In works like this you get to see the unbelievably skill and versatility BB dancers have, the most incredible stuff done flawlessly. I find these works to have a lot of quirky stuff (Hub Review calls Elo's style "twitchy", which I agree with), but it can be viewed here as adding flavor and interest to more exhilarating 'real' dance sections.

Sabi Vara and Tiffany Dedman in Bella Figura
Boston Ballet's 'Play with Fire', March 2012

Jeffrey Cirio in Rooster

        "By all means see these works now! Certainly "Play with Fire" showcases some of the best dancing the Ballet has done this year, and maybe in years.  For long stretches it's dazzling, even awe-inspiring .....  On the evening I saw the program, the stunning performances just kept coming (and coming), so I simply have to commend everyone in the dance:  Lia Cirio, Kathleen Breen Combes, Corina Gill, Whitney Jensen, Paulo Arrais, Jeffrey Cirio, Sabi Varga, and James Whiteside were all at their absolute best. --- Hub Review
Mrs Whitney @ Merrimack Theater, Lowell MA
        This is a relatively new play by the author of the wild comedy Fabuloso, which the Merrimack did (and I saw) do a couple of years ago. This play by John Kolvenbach is a failure. First act was fine, but 2nd act has big problems, it's a mess. The play at best is only half written, it's half a play. Second act has a long 'look away' scene with the actors standing front of stage and staring at each other giving long monologues. This jars with the realistic tone of the rest of the play.

        The theme of the play is a middle age woman, a 'romantic', alone for 20 years and her attempt to reconnect with her long gone husband. The 1st act has her deciding to take a big risk and go back to see if there is any spark with her old husband. At his house she runs into his current and 5th wife. 1st act ends with the old husband's first entrance as he opens the front door and all of them, nicely setting up the 2nd act. But come the 2nd act, things fall apart. It start with a long scene so bad I need to 'look away', the actors standing front and giving long monologues while staring at each other. This doesn't fit all with the realistic nature of the rest of the play. And why is this man so attractive, given that he's a drunk and disappears for weeks at a time? The plot of the play hinges on this. Shouldn't the play show him with some sort of charm (or with something)? It doesn't, mostly he acts like a lout and makes repeated inane comments on how he would like to be drinking the drinks others have. This play needs a lot of work. The acting by the two women, Deirdre Madigan and Rebecca Harris, were fine, but a young Dartmouth actor (Jay Markson) two or three times forgot his lines, surprising given that his role is relatively small, the play is in its 2nd week and there had been a matinee that very day.

Deirdre Madigan as the romaintic, Rebecca Harris as  as 5th wife
Dennis Parlato as husband
in Merrimack production of Mrs. Whitney, March 2012

Long Days Journey into Night @ NewRep, Watertown MA
        If you go to enough theater, I go about once a week, you eventually get to see some of the classic plays and 'Long Days Journey into Night' certainly qualifies. It's a 3+ play set in the back porch of a summer home, where we meet four members of an Irish family, whose history and inter-relationships are remarkable complex. Beautiful set by Janie Howland, beautifully lit, as can be seen below the set and everyone (in Act 1) is dressed entirely in white, quite striking. Stars are Will Lyman and Karen MacDonald, two of the finest Boston actors, and they deliver powerful performances in this long play. Will Lyman has a wonderful long selique about his growing up poor in Ireland, explaining why is thrifty. And Karen MacDonald gets to play a woman on the edge of madness.

Lewis D. Wheeler, Karen MacDonald, Will Lyman, and Nicholas Dillenburg
in New Repertory Theatres production of Eugene ONeills Long Days Journey Into Night (Apr 2012)
photo credit -- Andrew Brilliant

Karen MacDonald and Will Lyman

view of the excellent, all white New Rep set for Long Day's Journey into Night

        Wikipedia says this about the play   --- Long Day's Journey Into Night is a 1956 drama in four acts (here presented in two acts) written by American playwright Eugene O'Neill. The play is widely considered to be his masterwork. O'Neill posthumously received the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the work. The play is a semi-autobiographical account of O'Neill's explosive homelife, fused by a drug-addicted mother, and on his instructions was not published until after his death. It takes place in one day at a seaside home in Conn in 1912. In the play O'Neill is the younger brother, age 24, writing poetry for a small town newpaper and about to go off to a sanatorium for 6-12 months to try and cure his consumption.

        In fact O'Neil did go to a sanatorium for tuberculosis in 1912-13 where he began to work on playwriting, his older brother did drink himself to death at a young age, his father was a promising young actor who later played the same role 6,000 (!) times. (This number is hard to believe as this is 200 times a year for 30 years.) His mother was addicted to morphine, they had a Conn seaside cottage, and in 2012 everyone in the play is the same age as everyone in O'Neill's family.

        The play was written in 1942 and put in a vault at Ramdom House. A contract with O'Neil specified it was not to be published until 25 years after O'Neill's death, but his 3rd wife skirted the contract by giving it to Yale, and it was published 3 years after his death. When play first ran in NYC in 1956, Fredric March played the father and Jason Robards, Jr. the older son. In a recent London production Laurie Metcalf (from Rosanne) played the role of the mother. Katharine Hepburn played the role of the mother in a 1962 film version.

From Boston Globe Review (Apr 2012)

      His (director's) masterstroke, though, was casting Will Lyman and Karen MacDonald to play James and Mary Tyrone. They deliver performances that rank among the finest of their careers — and that is saying plenty. (The pair teamed up to equally excellent effect as another troubled couple in the 2010 Huntington Theatre Company production of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons.’’ (I saw the 'All My Sons' production at the Huntington in 2010, and it was a tour de force for McDonald.)
The Full Monty @ Stoneham Theater, Stoneham MA
       Stoneham has a hit I think, a phenomenal cast. All six guys are featured and all are strong performers who can hold the stage. The show is beautifully cast, the fat guy is really fat, and the black guy is pretty old. One standout is Margaret Ann Brady. This woman can do anything. I first saw her in Stoneham's 42nd street. A few months ago in a small role in NewRep's 'Christmas Story' (Ralphy's teacher) she stopped the show.  A familiar face is Steve Gagliastro who works a lot in the Boston area and was wonderful in the play about the Andrew Sisters at Stoneham. Another familiar face was Nick Sulfaro. He was excellent as the narrator of the play about DNA (Photograph 51) that I took the Stoneham kids to see last month in Cambridge, and here he shows he can really sing.

        The lead in the show is the excellent, Michael Timothy Howell (as Jerry Lukowski), and his ten year old son is wonderfully played by Colin Breslin. An unattractive aspect of this show, because it's about down and out working class, is its set, a brutal warehouse set. We have to use our imagination that its door is sometimes the door to a home, and a few crates dragged in make it the beds of various characters.

        At it's core this is really is a sweet show. On a 2nd viewing (following week) I am learning to really like this show and more of the nuances are sinking in. It's a great and sweet show, went back to see it again (3rd time) in last week of its run. The six men (strippers) + Margaret Brady are not the only principals in the show. Three women are featured as well: Amy Barker, Danielle Perry, Ilyse Robbins (show's choreographer), and Amy Barker is a standout almost stealing her scenes. Looking at her bio and searching this essay I now realize that she was one of the four principals in the show/review 'title of show'. Danielle Perry was in the two person show Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad at Stoneham a few years ago. Both of these women have songs, I don't think Ilyse sings, but she has several dramatic scenes and is the show's choreography.

        Looking again at the choreography was another revelation. The choreography fits the show perfectly. The actions of the dancers seem totally natural and in several scenes progress from from raw beginner to polished finale, in which this rag tag group is now a synchronized ensemble (see photo). There's also a nicely lit set piece from (which I cropped the third photo) with men having a nightmare with the girls as audience. 10 year old Colin Breslin (as Michael Timothy Howell's son) has a lot of scenes and is wonderful. His bio says he has been doing theater since first grade.

        Seeing the show again confirmed my guess that something had gone wrong on opening night. On broadway a huge bank of bright, blinking lights come on when the dancers (presumably) flash at the end of their dance. On opening night in Stoneham pretty much the lights just went out at the end, but I did notice a dim little light above came on. Sure enough the light above is a large flash bulb, which fired last night as the stage lights went out.

 Michael Timothy Howell (as Jerry Lukowski), Corey Jackson (as Dave Bukatinsky), David L. Jiles, Jr. (as Noah "Horse" T. Simmons),
Steve Gagliastro (as Harold Nichols), Andrew Oberstein (as Ethan Girard), Nick Sulfaro (as Malcolm MacGregor)
in Stoneham's production of The Full Monty (April 2012)

the girls --- left, featured: Amy Barker, Danielle Perry, Ilyse Robbins (show's choreographer),
right and below, ensemble: Michelle A. DeLuca, Darcie Champagne, Shonna McEachern

 Shivering --- Andrew Oberstein, Nick Sulfaro, David L. Jiles, Jr., Corey Jackson, and Steve Gagliastro

Colin Breslin (as Nathan  Lukowski), Margaret Ann Brady (background, as Jeanette Burmeister), David L. Jiles, Jr. (as Noah "Horse" T. Simmons)

Excellent review in Boston Globe --- ‘The Full Monty’ is a joy at Stoneham Theatre
        Terry Byrne singles out Margaret Brady for kudos and, crediting the costume designer, says her look alone is worth the price of admission. (Note only is there a cigarette dangling, the raspy voice and wise cracks, but her jet black hair spirals way way up.)

Grey Gardens @ Arlington Friends of Drama, Arlington MA
        This is the first time I have ever seen this show. I think I remember being turned off about this show, when a saw a song from it on the Emmy Awards years ago. Turns out that was from the decrepit 2nd act (1973), the 1st act set in 1941 is all warm and sunny. A very nice feature of the set was two projections of the house that covered the whole stage (not sure how it was done), neat and trim in 1st act and totally overgrown in 2nd act. The show has Jack Kennedy's older brother, Joseph who is killed in the war, engaged to Edie Bouvier Beal (the daughter of the mother daughter team), while Jackie Kennedy here is a young girl in the same family. Is this true? (see below)

        Arlington production wonderful. Large cast all of whom sing well, act up a storm, which this show requires of the principals: Margaret McCarty (Mother in 1st act and daughter (Little Edie) in 2nd act), Cheryl Carter-Miller (mother, Big Edie in 2nd act only), Heather Darrow (Young Edie in 1st act). Only familiar face the show was the youngest girl Lee Bouvier played by Sirena Abalien. She was featured and was excellent in Stoneham's last Christmas show: The Nutcracker.

1st act of Arlington's Friends of Drama, Grey Gardens, April 2012
left, Margaret McCarty (mother, Big Edie), center, Heather Darrow (Young Edie in 1st act)

Margaret McCarty and Cheryl Carter-Miller
in rehearsal (2nd act)

        A check of Wikipedia shows Grey Gardens ran on Broadway in 2006 for about six months. It was Christine Ebersole that I remember seeing singing a song from the show at the Tonys that year. And it was that depresssing scene and song (I now know from the 2nd act) that turned me off on the show. The mother and daughter of the 1st act and 32 years later in the 2nd act are usually played by three actresss. In the Broadway production Christine Ebersol was the mother (Big Eddie) in the 1st act and the daughter (little Eddie) in the 2nd act, and Arlington did the same thing with the dual role being played by Margaret McCarty.

Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr.
        The plot of the musical has Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. (John Kennedy's older brother) as a character in the musical engaged to Little Edie. I wondered if this was true or one of the fiction elements. I find no mention of this engagement on Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Wikipedia page, it has him engaged to some model.

        I found the story of how he died in the war very interesting. I had never heard there were some semi-robot aircraft in world war 2. Old planes loaded with explosives that were rigged to fly and crash into heavily armed sites like the gun emplacements on the French coast. But these planes could not take off robotically, so two pilots had to take them up and then parachute out. Kennedy was piloting the first of these planes loaded with 20,000 lbs of explosives. For some reason it exploded in the air 10 min before Kennedy and the co-pilot were scheduled to jump.

Boston Ballet's Don Quixote @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA
        Big lavish production of Don Quixote with Nureyev's choreography. This is a fluffy, bravura piece centered on the two principals who dance a famous pas de deux. Pretty much every principal in the company got to dance the lead, so the show you saw depended on the night you went. Since the run was only two weeks, most pairs only got to dance twice. I was there opening night (1st row!), and the pictures below are the opening night cast: Misa Kuranaga (Kitri/Dulcinea) and Jeffrey Cirio (Basilo).

         Kuranaga is a principal, but Cirio is soloist, so this was his big chance. His dancing was fine and generally up to the great BB standards, but his partnering with Kuranaga was occasionally not 100% clean. In multiple turns by Kuranaga with him holding her waist it sometimes looked like one of them expected one more turn. The only real off putting moments were the two (super difficult) one hand overhead lifts, which while not embarrassingly flubbed, didn't really come off. Kuranaga is small, but Cirio is quite small too, and I think here their limited time together as partners showed. Generally, but not always, these lifts are in the second act pas de deux, but here they were moved to the first act (when everyone is fresher). Critical review of them in this performance was universally very positive.

        No mention of loaned costumes in playbill, so the costume budget must have been huge as this ballet has a huge cast, all in rich looking layered Spanish flavored costumes. Costume (and set too) designed by Nicholas Georgiadis. The set backdrops set the right tone, Thea Singer in the Globe said of them, "Nicholas Georgiadis’s lush sets rub browns and oranges against golds to create a musty, misty landscape for the goings-ons", but they were a little too musty for my taste. The role of Gamache is here little developed (compared to ABT Don Quixote on DVD). Carlos Molina was good in the acting role of Don Quixote, and Yury Yanowsky brings some flare to the cape wielding Espada.

        A background article on the BB web site says BB has danced this ballet seven times since 1982, when Nereyev himself danced it with Laura Young. I remember seeing this production 30 years ago. Laura Young, just about to retire in 1989, got injured in the 1st act of another Don Quixote dancing with opposite Fernando Bujones. She was brilliantly replaced in the 2nd and 3rd acts by Jennifer Gelfand, 17, who was sitting in the audience. I had forgotten about Jennifer, who was a great dancer for a few years, but put on a lot of weight in her 20's before she stopped dancing at 31. In 2000 BB production of Don Quixote Aleksandra Koltun tore an Achilles’ tendon in the Vision scene and had to be carried offstage.

        The most odd and somewhat offputting thing about the famous pas was the music tempo at the beginning. It was unbelievably slow! More than a dozen versions of the Don Quixote pas de deux are online (YouTube), but this tempo far slower than any of them. Seemed like half the normal tempo. Not sure why it was so slow. The tempo goes up during the dance, so maybe the slow start was to increase the dynamic, but all it really did was make the beginning drag. The BB orchestra was led by its long time conductor (Jonathan McPhee), so clearly this was planned. This was the only performance I saw, so I don't know what happened when the other principals danced. (I recently learned from BB online bios that Jeffrey Cirio is the younger brother of new principal Lia Cirio.) The pas choreograph was also a little simplified here at the beginning, but it wound up with the with standard croud pleasing, slam bang ending done cleanly by both Kuranaga and Cirio. Unusual standing applause and cheers at the end of the evening for the principals in the cast.

        BB put a huge number of excellent pictures (my guess is taken during dress rehersal) of the opening night cast on their web site, so here are a bunch of them.

Misa Kuranaga (Kitri/Dulcinea) and Jeffrey Cirio (Basilo)
in Boston Ballet's 2012 production of Don Quixote (5/12)

Misa Kuranaga (Kitri/Dulcinea)

Jeffrey Cirio (Basilo)

Misa Kuranaga

Jeffrey Cirio

Kathleen Breen Combes?

(hard to be sure who these are, but my guess is Dryad Trio, but blond Whitney Jensen is not here, so it's Fri casting?)
soloists Adiarys Almeida, Dalay Parrondo, Ria Ichikawa

Rie Ichikawa?

For reference
        There are many versions of the Don Quixote Grand pas de deux on YouTube, and all show its bravora nature. Here is one of  my favorites: Paloma Herrera and Jose Carreño of ABT, both terrific, recorded in 1999 when both are 24. One reason this pas is so famous is its wonderful music by Ludwig Minkus. (Herrera and Carreño do not include the one arm over the head lifts.)

Little Shop of Horrors @ NewRep, Watertown MA
        Little Shop of Horrors is one of my favorite shows. I saw the off Broadway production many years ago (as I remember from the last row), and I saw the Broadway production too a few years ago. I even remember seeing the original BW movie quite a few times on late night TV when I was young. The play notes say that Roger Corman shot the whole movie in three days, almost every scene in one take. I've always been puzzled as to why Seymour's last name is just slightly changed in the musical (as far as I know it's not used in a song, so it's not for rhyming). Nice production by the New Rep, this time two of the three street urchins are white.

        Good cast: Blake Pfeil as Seymour, Bill Mootos as Orin Audry's dentist boyfriend, Susan Molloy with her big boobs makes a suitably slutty Audrey and Paul D. Farwell (in My Fair Lady) is Mr. Mushnik. The street urchins are Jennifer Fogarty, Lovely Hoffman, and Ceit Zweil (dance captain and was in 43nd St at Stoneham). The street urchins sing great and are a bundle of energy. Pfeil and Molloy (both new to me) do a fine job on their big number (Suddenly Seymour).

Blake Pfeil as Seymour with the blood-thirsty plant Audrey II (May 2012)

Bill Mootos, Ceit Zweil, Lovely Hoffman, Jennifer Fogarty

Blake Pfeil, Susan Molloy

cast with director (right)
(director was col in Stoneham's My Fair Lady)

Boston Ballet's Fancy Free @ Boston Opera House
        Terrific program to end the 2011-2012 season: Barber Violin Concerto by Martins (1988), Fancy Free by Robbins (1944), and Etudes by Lander (1948). I had never seen the Martins or Fancy Free before and quite a few years since I have seen Etudes. So good I saw the program twice, which I almost never do.

        Etudes has its roots in the Danish ballet and starts with a ballet class, the ballet bars dramatic lit showing just the feet and later profiles. (The floor covering of the whole stage actually removed during the act 2-3 intermission to provide a black floor for this piece.) At one performance the girls were in line from my seat and their precision and technique were really impressive. Etudes slowly builts to faster and more difficult combination ending with lots of beats and some really difficult stuff all in the (Danish) classical tradition. The anchor in Etudes at one performance I saw was James Whiteside. He has developed into a powerhouse and was rock solid in his technique in one of the most difficult combinations of the climax. (I read on BB web site that he is being sucked away by ABT next year.) Also impressive (at a different performance) was Paulo Arrais doing a lot of difficult beats.

Boston Ballet's Fancy Free, May 2012

Lia Cirio, Pavel Gurevich
in Peter Martins' Barber Violin Concerto (1988)

Sylvia Deaton, Pavel Gurevich                                                            Yury Yanowsky, Sylvia Deaton

James Whiteside, Paul Craig, Isaac Akiba
Jerome Robbins' Francy Free (1944)

Erica Cornejo, Isaac Akiba, Paul Craig

sailors with Brittany Summer                                                                          Kathleen Breen Combes

Harald Lander's Etudes 1948

Scan from an ABT season brochure showing Whiteside looking good in Don Quixote (Oct 2013)
(ABT flyer for the spring 2014 season lists him as a principal dancer.)

I Capture the Castle @ Stoneham Theater, Stoneham MA
        This play had faded in my memory as I saw it on opening night, which was the night before my week long trip to NYC, however, a 2nd viewing near the end of its run has sharpened its image. This is apparently a nearly forgotten play that Weylin Symes somehow discovered. He says in the playbill that Dodie Smith's first novel 'I Capture the Castle' (1948) is still a favorite in England, and that he was thrilled when he discovered that she had (in 1954) adapted it for the stage herself.

        Terry Teachout, who I respect as a critic, reviewed a 2010 production of this play in NJ shakespeare festival, saying " The word "irresistible" is rarely true, but I don't see how anyone not descended from Scrooge McDuck could fail to fall for "I Capture the Castle."

        This play has a wild assortment of over the top characters swirling around a realistic love story of two sisters, one of whom, Cassandra Mortmain, is also the play's narrator, so as Weylin pointed out at a function prior to the opening, she is on stage nearly the whole play! The show is nicely anchored by a very strong performance by Melissa Aker as Cassandra Mortmain, a senior and drama major (from Turkey!) at Tufts (training under Sheriden Thomas, who appears frequently at Stoneham and who also has a small part in this play). Melis Aker is impressive and will someone to watch.

        Two of the wild characters are the excellent Boston actors Marianna Bassham, who gets to over act deliciously, as the artist model 2nd wife, and Allyn Burrows, as the father, who I saw last year as the star of the play about Allen Touring at the Central Square Theater.

Marianna Bassham and Melis Aker (Cassandra Mortmain) showing some of the excellent castle set
in Stoneham Theater production of I Capture the Castle (May 2012)

Allyn Burrows (father) and Melis Aker (daughter and narrator)

Allyn Burrows (locked in tower), Melis Aker and Bernie Baldassaro

        This is play is a big production, beautifully pulled together by Stoneham. Here Symes is the director, and with this large cast, and the large cast of the last production (Full Monty), I am coming to realize that strong casting is one of Stoneham's strong points. There are 14 in this cast, all excellent, huge set and 40 costumes. Something like 150 items are used in the play. The tower extended to the high ceiling of the theater and the set  was full of doors, arches, beams, and stairway to the bedroom on the 2nd level. (Teachout notes in his review the show would probably become a regional favorite if it didn't require a cast of 14.) At a behind the scenes function before the opening with the set designer (Richard Wadsworth Chambers) and costume designer (Rachel Padula-Shufelt) were very interesting. I had seen Bernie Baldassaro not long ago in the Stoneham Young company production of '13' dancing up a storm. For a young teen he is apparently quite serious about acting as his bio lists a huge number of production he has been in. Here he speaks with a strong english accent.

        Only found one substantive review. He thought the play was terrible, but liked the production saying,

        "But almost everyone else was in clover with the author's gallery of eccentrics, so I'll just list them all - Bernie Baldassaro, Charlotte Anne Dore, John Geoffrion, Joey Heyworth, Sarah Jones, Gerard Slattery, Meredith Stypinski, Sheriden Thomas, I wish you'd had a better play to be in.  Still, you couldn't wish for a better set to be in: Richard Chambers constructed an actual castle on the stage of Stoneham.  Maybe they can store it somewhere and bring it back if somebody else ever captures the elusive mood of this novel in a more stage-worthy play."
May-June 2012 week long theater trip to NYC
        Great 8 day trip to NYC end of May where I met up with my nephew (John Fulton). During the week I saw 10 shows: 4 on weekend before John arrived from CA, 3 with John, and 3 more at end of week. Trip date was set by John who had bought seats to Book of Morman about ten months earlier. Really lucked out on weather. It was warm-hot and sunny every day (some rain showers at night) all week in NYC. Preceding trip it was rainy in Boston two weeks out of previous three, and arrived back in Boston to what looks like a week of miserable cold rainy weather.

Great trip
        Everything worked on this trip:  good shows, fantastic seats, no blisters, nice outside breakfasts and a meet up with my favorite (and only) nephew. Got fantastic seats for all nine shows that I bought. At six shows I got rows 1 to 3. John and I sat 6th row center for the two shows we bought a pair of seats at box office. At Lincoln center my seat for NYC Ballet was 8th row center. Bought seats for the first four (Memorial Day) weekend shows online from home a few days before leaving. Tickets for the other five shows were bought at box office. Telecharge has the bulk of Broadway shows in May 2012 they are selling from two sites. The standard site just offers one seat at a time, but their new beta site (for a few? shows) can be setup to show all the empty seats, which is obviously very helpful. For example, I could see that Anything Goes, recently extended, was an easy seat.

        With John on very hot Tues we took Staten Island ferry, and then we explored Statin Island seeing the ballpark and walked up the steep hills behind the downtown. Thur I took a long walk up the east side, where I had never been, up 2nd and 3rd avenues, walking by the Roosevelt cable car terminal (almost went over), looping back to the park and down to Edison. On Fri I walked up to the Museum of Natural History (again) and took in the bioluminescence show.

        Following up on my sucessful Jan trip I again left on Fri (11:30 am) and returned Sat (4:30 pm) giving my 8 days in NYC. Flew JetBlue into Kennedy ($183 great price vs $600 for Delta shuttle into LaGuardia). One bag check is free on JetBlue. JetBlue does not have an early evening flight Sat flight to Boston, so it is not possible to see a show on Sat. However, this schedule gives 8 evenings to see shows and adding a matinees on first Sat and Wed can bring the total to 10 shows, and this is the number of shows I saw.

        The two JetBlue flights did not go (totally) smooth. Good news is that the security lines were very short both at Logan and Kennedy. My small bag triggered an inspection and I was baffled as to why. Water bottle! (OK to leave tablet computers in bags and I did.) The problem leaving Boson was plane sat at gate for 1.5 hr because fuel guage was not reading correctly! Each annoucement said another 15-20 min, but it went on and on.

Kennedy taxi
       This put the taxi ride into mid-town 1.5 hr late to 3:00 pm. There was some traffic on highways in Queens (50 min ride), but nothing like the miles long crawling traffic leaving the city at 3:00 pm on (holiday weekend) Fri. Taxi ride from Edison to Kennedy was fast (35 min). I left Edison at noon, because that was checkout time, but it got me to Kennedy four hours (!) before my 4:30 pm flight. I probably should have checked bags at Edison and left an hour or so later. There is almost nowhere to sit outside at Kennedy. I eventually found some benches at the end of the JetBlue terminal. After getting there four hours early, the flight to Boston had a scheduled delay of an hour due to rain storms in Boston. Taxi fee these days (big increase is being discussed) to Kennedy is flat $45 + $5-6 Queens midtown tunnel = $51, so both ways I paid $60 since drivers were not crazy. John this time took public transit to Kennedy, airport airtran (free) to LI railroad, which arrives in Penn station.

        One of the pleasures I enjoy in NYC is a late breakfast in open air with a copy of NY Times. Generally ate at Juniors (breakfast ends 10:45) in Shubert Alley. I found the food there this time much improved from earlier years (at good prices). Wrapped toes every day with lambs wool, brought my old shoes, and was sensible about taking a few days to build up my NYC walking legs, and I think for first time ever got no blisters at all. (Was going to bring new shoes (same model), but a short test a few days before leaving home showed this would be a terrible mistake.)

BB Playbook
       Also this was first trip with my new 7" BB Playbook tablet computer, and it proved very useful. Kept me in e-mail contact with John prior to his arrival. Read news and weather, checked radar before going out. Used it to take a few short videos including a 2 min HD of Times Square at night (in light rain). At home I found that mp4 videos made by Playbook can be reduced in size by about 3:1 with no reduction in resolution and no apparent loss of visual quality by my standard video freeware program: 'Freemake Video Converter'. My tests show Playbook at maximum resolution (1080p) generates files of 6 Gbyte/hour, which Freemake can reduce to 2 Gbyte/hour. Found a nice dual portrait of John and me that somehow got snapped when we were playing around with the Playbook rear facing camera.

       Had to pay for WiFi access at Edison hotel [av $7-8/day, $35 (5 days) + $25 (3 days) via Emenities + $4 test buy]. First purchase didn't work. I then found out that Edison provides no technical support, only option is to call the Emenities and when I did no one there seemed to know if I had been charged. But when I got connected, worked OK, BW was OK. Pricing is very non-linear and expensive for short times. Did not try to buy any tickets with Playbook. I think this would be difficult with entering all the data and repeated typing of security codes.

Ticket prices
       Broadway ticket prices have gone up a lot each year and big shows now run about $150 (+ nearly $10 extra if bought online) and plays can run $130.  I remember 10-12 years ago when ticket prices with close to $100. Boston ticket prices have gone up too. I just paid $80 in Boston for Huntington ticket and top price BB tickets run $130.

Private Lives @ Huntington Theater, Boston MA
        I had seen this play once in NYC many years ago. I remembered the opening, but little else. This is the 3rd Noel Coward play I have seen at the Huntington in the last few years. I have been interested in seeing Noel Cowards plays since I was bowled over by the writing and terrific production of Coward's Present Laughter they did four or five years ago. With the same cast it later moved to Broadway for a run at the Roundabout, where I saw it again from the boxes. But I was disappointed in Coward's Blithe Spirit (again at the Huntington) a couple of years ago, which I thought rather silly. So I made sure not to miss Private Lives, which got excellent reviews.

  By casual observation the 'big three' that seen to be performed fairly regularly these days are: Present Laughter (1939), Blithe Spirit (1941), and Private Lives (1930). A check of Wikipedia shows Coward was a very prolific playwright in addition to being a performer. They list something like 35-40 (!) plays he wrote over a fifty year period (1917 to 1967).

        I enjoyed this Coward play, but I don't think it is as much fun as Present Laughter, and I thought I thought the play kind of ran out of steam in the 3rd act. Very polished, nuanced, sparkling performance by the lead couple James Waterston and Bianca Amato. Good set, as always, by the Huntington and first rate direction. The play is full of action in the 2nd act, including Waterston playing piano and singing while Amato dances around. A real surprise I learned from the review below that James Waterston is the son of Sam Waterston. (Sam Waterston as a young man was wonderful years ago playing Openheimer in the seven hour PSB series about the development of the atomic bomb. I bought the DVD of the series.)

         James Waterston, Bianca Amato                                                                    James Waterston, Autumn Hurlbert
in Huntington Theater's production of Noel Coward's Private Lives, June 2012

Jeremy Webb, Bianca Amato                                                                         Bianca Amato, James Waterston

Bianca Amato, Jeremy Webb

From a review of this production:
     "James Waterston (son of famous actor Sam Waterston) and Bianca Amato as Amanda are fabulous throughout the play. Their affable chemistry is apparent as they hurl angry epithets at each other during brawls, hitting each other, throwing furniture, pillows, and breaking records over their heads, then cuddling, kissing and nuzzling each other. Garbed in costume designer Candice Donnelly’s sensuous silk pajamas or expensive finery, their tantrums yet civilized behavior is unpredictable."
A Chorus Line @ Regal Players, Waltham MA
        I remember first seeing this show when it was new in the 70's at Century City in LA (on a business trip) and later in NYC, where it ran for years. It has a lot of very nice songs, some clever songs ('I could never really sing'), a show stopper ('What I Did for Love') that all fit their characters perfectly. Somehow I never realized they were written by Marvin Hamlisch since Michael Bennett (director and choerographer) is the name always associated with Chorus Line. This is the first amateur production of Chorus Line I have seen (from 1st row).

        Regal has a large pool of local dancers to draw on, but surprisingly I didn't see any of the usual Regal dancers in this production, which is basically all dancers. Must be a hard show to cast locally as each performer has to sing, act and dance AND has to fit the character (male/female, black, short, busty, jewish, young, old, etc), but Regal did a good job. One name that caught my attention was the director was Leslie Woodies, I remember years her from years ago when she was a Boston Ballet dancer and danced in a short (set in a country house) on WGBH. I see she went on to be broadway dancer and danced the featured role of Cassie in national and international tours of A Chorus Line.

        Two of the cast are graduates of the Stoneham Young Company: Allison Russell (Maggie), she was the star of many Stoneham productions I saw (I have some pictures of her) and Bradley Jensen (Mike), who Russell says in her bio is her life long friend though I don't remember him from Stoneham (maybe he was before I started going as he just graduated from BC, but Russell just graduated from BC too). Allison Russell sings well and is featured in the trio ('At the ballet'), but I was surprised to see her as a dancer. She does not have a dancer's body. About the only other cast member I am familiar with is Aimee Doherty (Sheila), who stars in a lot of musicals in the Boston area. A review of the bios shows about half the cast are from Boston Conservatory (still students or recent graduates), several are graduates of other Boston Colleges, and one is still in HS: Connor Fallon (Mark, youngest dancer, 'wet dream') will be a senior at Framingham HS.

        The 'star' of Chorus Line is Cassie, she has big dance number. Here it was Katie Clark and while not really showing much technique, she faked it pretty good. She's at least a (low level) pro, her bio shows a national tour of Music Man. Looking at her web site, although she studied dance in college, she's more of an actress, often playing older parts. She lists her weight at 150lbs, caller herself an "advanced tapper" and in Music Man she was one of the town ladies (Alma Hix), not a dancer. (In later years Katie Clark will be in Stoneham show in the ensemble, and as a lead in two Regal shows, South Pacific 2014 and Wonderful Town 2015.)

Katie Clark as Cassie
in Regal Players 'A Chorus Line' June 2012

Hello Dolly @ North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly MA
        First show of North Shore 2012 season (seen from 1st row). Nice production with a very strong cast made this a very enjoyably Dolly. The men's ensemble, who are featured in Hello Dolly, were all very strong dancers and as a group sang well too. The Globe reviewer swooned over the 2nd leads: Matt Loehr (Cornelius Hackle) and Analisa Leaming (Irene Malloy), saying Leaming almost stole the show with her song (Ribbons down my back), and I agree Analisa Leaming is very good singer, a rising star.

        Loehr, who had featured billing, is a triple threat man, being both a good dancer, comic actor, and pretty good singer. (His dancing in this role is quirkly for comic effect). He must be older than he looks, because he was in the original cast of Producers and several other Broadway shows. And clearly he is (or was) a very good dancer as he was one of Tyler Tharp's dancers in Movin On, in Fosse, and was the star of Singing in the Rain at North Shore in 2006.

        The leads were Jacquelyn Piro Dovovan (Dolly) and Gary Beach (Horace Vandergelder) and both have a story. Curiously Beach gets no billing. True, it is a supporting role, but he has been in a lot of Broadway shows and is somewhat of a name having won a lot of awards. He is a specialist in playing drag queens: LaCage Aux Folles (one of the two leads) and Roger DeBris in the Producers, both on Broadway. He plays Horace very crotchety (and not very lovable) until the last scene where he asks Dolly to marry him.

        Jacquelyn Piro Dovovan, a native of Lynnfield, stepped in without much notice to replace an injured Lorna Luft, who was the 'name' of the show. Dovovan may not be name, but she has solid credentials, and she did fine. She was in featured roles in Les Mis on Broadway (at North Shore in Gypsy she was the stripper Miss Mazeppa). She stepped into Dolly in NC last year with very little notice. I suspect she may have improved during the two week run. I saw the show in the 2nd week. Before going I had seen the North Shore video and concluded its Dolly was weak,  but I saw none of this. The Globe reviewer, while not criticizing her, said she didn't hog the spotlight, but when she needed to hold the stage as a prima donna, she could, she looked the part, and here singing (while not great) was fine.

North Shore Music Theater production of Hello Dolly (6/12)
Center: Matt Loehr (Cornelius Hackle) and Eric Mann (Barnaby Tucker)
"Put On Your Sunday Clothes"
(Photos by Paul Lyden)

 Left: Gary Beach (Horace Vandergelder) and Jacquelyn Piro Donovan (Dolly Gallagher Levi)
Right: Analisa Leaming (Irene Malloy)

South Pacific @ Ogunquit Theater, Ogunquit ME
        I saw the Lincoln Center production of South Pacific near the end of its smash run 2008 to 2009. This is a one great show, a terrific score by Rogers and wonderful lyrics and WWII love story by Hammertstein. The Ogunquit production is modelled on the Lincoln Center production and they have (as usual) pulled it off with an excellent cast that know the show well because they were either in the National Tour or in the Broadway production. To top it off I had a 1st row center seat at the first performance, and if weather allows I hope to get to ME to see it again during its one month run. Three weeks in and I have seen the show on each of my weekly visits to ME.

        The cast is led by Jennie Sophia, as Nellie Forbush, and Branch Fields, as Emile de Becque. She fits the role beautifully with personality to spare, is a joy to watch and was Nellie on the National tour. He was a bass for several years with the New York City Opera and was the understudy for de Becque on Broadway. Almost every review comments on his great voice, and there is a wow from the audience when hits his final notes in Some Enchanted Evening and Once This Nearly was Mine. A check of the bios show a lot of principals were on the South Pacific national tour. Christopher Johnstone as Lt Cable, Ben Crawford as Luther Billis and Christine Toy Johnson as Bloody Mary were fine. In fact with repeat viewing ALL five principals of this show are wonderful singers. Robert Ierardi as Commander Harbison, new to this show, also does a good job. (He looks familar, but his bio gives no clue where I might have seen him before.) Crawford (Luther Billis) is new to the show. He bio shows he was in Les Mis on broadway (an u/s for Valjean, I could tell he sang well).

        This show (by design) doesn't have 'real' dancing, and with a couple of exceptions, the ensemble are not trained dancers. The ensemble, both the guys and girls are chosen to be a mixed bunch, to look like real sailors and nurses. It makes the amateur show of the 2nd act look real. Even when Jennie Sophia dances around on stage (Wash that Man Right Out of my Hair), she doesn't do any dance steps.

        I was pleased to see the iconic moment at the very end of the show is preserved. Nellie thinks he may have died in his secret mission, and she is feeding his children. As she sings a little song with them, she can't remember the next French words and he from behind her sings them. She subtlely lifts her face, but stays seated not turing around. When he comes over, he embraces the children, but not her, and they all just sit down to eat. Then out of sight of the children (but in the view of the audience) Nellie and Emile reach under the table and join hands while the lights dim. Wonderfully romantic. This is the way the Lincoln Center production ended, and from a few excerpts I have seen this is how the movic South Pacific ends too.

        Ogunquit usually post hires pictures, but for some reason they posted no decents pics for this show. I captured the scenes below from the Ogunquit HD video (two are from NY Lincoln Center production).

Jennie Sophia as Nellie Forbush in Ogunquit Theater production of South Pacific (June 2012)

Branch Fields as Emile de Becque

Jennie Sophia and Christopher Johnstone as Lt Cable

Christine Toy Johnson as Bloody Mary

Ben Crawford as Luther Billis

(NY production)

Iconic ending (NY production)

(Ogunquit sets)

(Ogunquit sets)

(Ogunquit sets)

Footnote on Jennie Sophia
         She has a thin Google presence. By reading reviews of the South Pacific tour I see there were two national tours. The first was apparently equity actors and was prepared by the director of the Lincoln Center production. Jennie Sophia was the lead of a second more scaled down South Pacific tour, which according to a Chicago review had all non-equity actors. Meaning, of course, Jennie Sophia is apparently not a member of actors equity. Also the 2nd national tour closed on June 12, 2012,  just 8 days before the Ogunquit production opened.
Bye Bye Birdie @ Reagle Players, Waltham MA
        Yikes, two Charles Strouse musicals in one week: Bye Bye Birdie at Reagle and Annie at North Shore. Until this week I didn't know who Charles Strouse was, even though Annie is one of my favorite shows, and I had no clue that the same composer who wrote Annie had (earlier) written Bye Bye Birdie.

        I had an unpleasant surprise arriving at Bye Bye Birdie. At Reagle I go early to the box office and can usually get a side seat in the first few rows. This time at the box office window I am just handed a ticket (without paying) and it's like 12 rows back on the side. What? She tells me that all the seat are free for this performance (funded by some large MA organization I never heard of, one of three theater performances they did this for), which of course means there is a huge crowd!

      So while I could see (in the distance) that this was a highly polished Reagle production with a very large cast, a show loses a lot when your aren't close. Albert Peterson played by Jacob Sherburne, whose good physically and whose bio says he has been in the long running ART Donkey Show. His bio says he is going to be in My Fair Lady coming up in Aug at Reagle. Carmen Napier (as Rose Alvarez) was fine, she is a recent graduate of Boston Conservatory as is Matt Phillipps (Globe says of Phillipps, "steals every scene as a hypochondriacal nerd") who played the jilted boyfriend Hugo Peobody. Conrad Birdie was well played by Ryan Overberg, who just got off roller skates at Xanadu at Speakeasy and is another Boston Conservatory dude (rising senior). The name star was Anita Gillette, who does a fine job as Albert's smothering mother. Brad Walters has been playing the father in this show since 1994 (3rd production at Reagle), and he make the most of his Ed Sullivan number. For some reason there's no bios of the ensemble (kids or adults). The kids (quite young) didn't look like the usual Reagle dance bunch.

Ryan Overberg as Conrad Birdie in Reagle Players production of Bye Bye Birdie (July 2012)

Production gets a pretty good review at Globe -- '‘Bye Bye Birdie’ sizzles in its 50s'
        However, the reviewer didn't find Sherburne as Albert very lovable, and I agree it was a somewhat wooden performance.

        I stumbled across this video of Bye Bye Birdy done at North Shore in 2008 (don't remember seeing this production), and it looks like a totally different show. The reason is the North Shore production was a real dance show. Not only does the chorus dance (tap dancing too), but Albert and Rosie are both skilled dancers. It looks like much more fun show done this way.

Annie @ North Shore Music Theater, Beverly MA
        I always get my Annie fix when I can, when a new production pops up. I was at North Shore on opening night, and as usual North Shore has put a polished production on stage, but I have mixed feelings about the casting and direction. Annie here is Lauren Weintraub from Sudbury, a real pro who is a very polished singer and good actress. She had played the role in ME last year. Her bio says she has acting, dancing and voice coaches and at age 13 she is an "Equity actress"! She is very small and young looking in body for age 13, but facially she looks like an adult.

        Miss Hannigan is Jacquelyn Piro Donovan, who was Dolly last month at North Shore. The picture of her shows one of the problems with this production. She does not play Miss Hannigan with a wink (as Sally Struthers does). Her Miss Hannigan is a polished characterization and she sings and dances well, but her character as played is not in the least lovable, she is just mean. I have seen other Annies where Miss Hanigan was scary mean, but somehow it didn't work for me here. Other weaknesses: Warbucks was played by a huge bear of a man, Raymond Jarmillo McLeod, who son of a gun I remember from Broadway a few years ago. He was 'Wreak' in Wonderful Town (with Donna Murphy). His acting with Annie was OK, but I thought his singing weak, curious since his bio says he has sung in opera at the Met (maybe chorus).  Jessica Tyler Wright as Grace Farrell has only a light voice, and she always seemed to fade into the background when she should be commanding the stage. While it's only barely indicated in the script (that's "a nice dress" Warbucks says), here there was zero attempt in the staging to indicate that Farrell and Warbucks might become a couple. And of course, being theater in the round, there was no grand staircase for the gussied up Annie to come down.

Jacquelyn Piro Donovan as (scary) Miss Hannigan in North Shore's Annie (July 2012)

Lauren Weintraub (Annie) with Elena Carmichael (Molly)

Elena Carmichael (Molly)

Raymond Jarmillo McLeod with Lauren Weintraub

good dancers

HD video of the North Shore production

Dear Mss Garland @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        This is a one woman show performed by Kathy St. George, who is local, grew up in Stoneham. She has done this show, or one similar, last year or the year before. She gets a very good crowd. This is summer, not theater season in Boston, and she had a long one month run, yet on the Thur evening I attended near the end of the run the house was nearly full.

        Kathy is a real pro with a lot of talent, guts and experience and can hold an audience for 1 3/4 hours with a nicely varied program of singing, dancing, story telling about Judy, including a hilarious retelling of the Wizard of Oz in 10 min, which I remember well from the previous year. The show is well paced and builds nicely through the evening, pants and ballet flats with piano accompaniment in 1st act, to dress and heels + orchestra in 2nd act, to all legs and baggy pants at the end. Kathy is not a super strong singer, but she does well enough and knows how to put a song over.

        The playbill shows the show is really the efforts of a trio: Kathy and Scott Edmiston (also listed as director) co-conceived and wrote the show, and Kathy is assisted by a talented music director Jim Rice, who she has worked with before. He plays piano in first half (including singing one number with Kathy), and in second half a 6 - 7 man orchestra appears with Rice as director. Rice with be music director for two musicals in the upcoming Stoneham 12-13 season. Edmiston, who I don't know, I see has directed a lot of top shows in Boston recently including Long Days Journey into Night (New Rep), Cat on a hot tin roof (Lyric) and Vibrator play Speakeasy) plus 50 more.

Kath St. George in her production of 'Dear Miss Garland' at Stoneham Theatre (July 2012)

4th week July 2012
        On two successive nights (Tues and Wed) this week saw two great shows. One I had been looking forward to all year, and the other was a complete surprise.  The show I was looking forward to is Billy Elliot, one of my favorites. I had made a trip to NYC in early Jan 2012 to see it a few days before it closed on Broadway. The tour version is of course a little scaled down, but in its polish and impact it did not disappoint.

        The almost total surprise was Hairspray at the Hackmatack Playhouse. I've like this show a lot since I first saw it in NYC about ten years ago and have seen it many time since. But I had never seen a show at Hackmatack Playhouse, and it's pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I had made a scouting trip there last summer to figure out where it was (Berwick ME, about 10-15 miles from Ogunquit (east), Dover (south), and Rochester (west)) and had found a herd of buffalo out back! From what I had seen (pictures of cast, etc) in the tourist newspaper it seemed like the quality would be below Arundle Barn playhouse, I pretty much figured it was just local performers. Wrong!

        Hackmatack Hairspray turned out to have 27 people in the cast, all highly skilled, nicely costumed, the black cast had come in from NY as had Tracy and the Motor Mouth Mabel had actually played this role on a national tour! And I had a seat 1st row center. Good attendance on opening night, and the previous production (Oklahoma) was sold out for some performances. (tip --- call and check for 1st or 2nd row, they don't seem to sell it as its close to stage which is high above, but I quite liked the view.)
Billy Elliot the Musical (national tour) @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA
        Billy Elliot closes Sun July 22 in Milwaukee WI and opens two days later (July 24) in Boston for a one month run at the Opera House. How they can get the sets struck after a Sun performance in Milwaukee and trucked 1,500 miles to Boston in time to set up (plus I assume some time for a little rehearsal) for a Tues evening performance boggles my mind. They don't have two copies of the set do they?

        I worked a few numbers. Sun mat performance ends say 5:00 pm. Show is struck and loaded on trucks, say 6 hours (11:00 pm Sun). If 50 mph av could be maintained for 1,500 miles, it would take 30 hours for trucks to arrive in boston (Tues at 5:00 am), then maybe 10 hours to unload the trucks and hang the set at a new theater in Boston (Tues 3:00 pm). The Tues performance starts at 7:30 pm (I will be there), so if schedule is held there some time for a blocking rehearsal a few hours before curtain. Pretty tight and would take a big crew of stage hands in both cities at odd times and presumably double drivers in the trucks. What happens if a truck breaks down or has a flat? (show went off without a hitch on Tues @ Boston)

Kylend Hetherington, one of four Billy Elliots on National tour

Billy Elliot 2012 national tour girls (partial) with Kylend Hetherington as Billy)

Billy Elliot national tour @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA
        The tour version is of course a little scaled down in scenery and special effects, but in its polish and impact it did not disappoint. I was there at the first performance with an unobstructed row A view (1/4th the price of seat just to left of me, since side boxes are characterized as limited view, but what was lost was very little).

        Some of the performances the first night were the best ever: Janet Dickinson looks like a real dancer and was a great as Mrs. Wilkinson.  For the first Boston performance (but not its 'opening') Noah Parets, a local boy, 13 from Sudbury and Gold Studios in Brockton was Billy, and he was terrific. He is new to the tour (his first professional job). One story had him just joining the tour in Boston, which would have made the performance I saw his first, but an interview with him on Boston TV seemed to indicate that he had begun dancing Billy in Milwaukee, just before Boston. He had a group up at the back cheering him on. He is good ballet dancer (standing ovation during the show for one of the ballet combinations), and he stands out over all the other Billys I have seen in his singing.

        In his TV interview it came out he has signed on to the tour for six months, and the deal is if he does not grow (he looks very young, like the 11-12 he plays) he will be extended six more months. There are four Billys on the tour, so they each dance on average twice a week. Rich Hebert, from MA too an ex-teacher, does well as the dad.

        Second week I saw Kylend Hetherington, who had danced 'opening night' (press night, 2nd night in Boston), and seems to be the senior Billy. He too was good, hitting his dance combinations cleanly, he's a good dancer, but his singing is like many other Billys sort of a speak-sing. While he looks young, he is getting tall and has just about outgrown the role.  (Again in row A but this time for $10 more ($30 vs $20) was able to move toward center by one section (A, 32) to one of my favorite seats in Opera House with totally clear view of the stage. The boxes to right of me remained empty, as did the seats behind me.)

Tour vs Broadway scale downs
        Since I have been listening to the Billy Elliot CD driving to ME, I am quite familiar with the score. I noted some weird little changes. One of Billy's first lines is "fucked if I know", but in Boston 'fucked' was gone (replaced by 'bloody' something). On the CD the 2nd act begins with we have been on strike for 8 months, in Boston it was from nearly a year.

        The NYC production featured two huge stage elevators, which of course are missing in a touring show. One was used to bring up Billy's high bed (on a turntable no less!), and the other in the rear of the stage used to take the miners down into the mine (great theatrical effect as their headlamps wink out).

        Here the bed is not very high and is just pushed on stage. The kitchen is hardly nothing, just a tiny free standing stove. I couldn't really see the headlamps winking out (too deep in the stage for my side view), but I think all they did was drop a curtain down. One big lack I thought was the 'Royal Ballet' silver curtain, which changes the tone of the show, was totally missing. All that's done on tour is they stand in front of the regular (red) theater curtain. The only indication that it's supposed to be the Royal Ballet theater is a relatively small (also red) banner saying 'Royal Ballet' is draped from the top. Another missing element is the huge fantasy tap dancers at the end of the big tap number. Here they are human scaled, but to preserve some fantasy the dancers faces are hidden behind sort a mesh screen. At least the Christmas show looked intact, including the large Maggie Thatcher and shooting tank cannon. Michael dressing room, dance class changing rooms and the moving house walls are the same.

        Noted a few weird little differences: on CD the father sings his wife dies when he is 47, but in Boston he says 37. On CD at intro to Christmas party someone says we have been on strike for '8 months', in Boston it's for 'nearly a year'. Some of the 'fucks' are removed, but not all. On CD pretty much Billy's first words (when asked by Michael about the strike) are 'fucked if I know', and the policemen on CE sing of 'funking' the minors' wives (in Boston it's 'shagging', I think). However, near the end in Boston Mrs. Wilkinson still tells Billy he is pretty 'fucking' special (slight Oh from audience on this).

Globe review by Don Aucoin takes note of the miner story (7/26/12)
        "Fine and stirring production ... Janet Dickinson is a major asset as Mrs. Wilkinson, the crusty dance teacher who sees the potential in the coal miner’s son who bumbles into her class one day. Hip cocked, cigarette in hand, Dickinson’s Wilkinson is utterly devoid of illusions but not, somehow, of dreams — at least for Billy."

        "But because this is a musical with — of all unlikely things — a social conscience, Daldry and librettist Lee Hall do not allow the miners’ plight to just fade into the background. Instead, they keep a steady focus on the polarizing, soul-sapping effects of the strike and the grim realities of belonging to the working class at a time when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had essentially declared war on unions.

        There is a surprising rigor and grit to Elton John’s score that dovetail with Hall’s unapologetically populist lyrics. Anthemic tunes like “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher’’ (complete with a gigantic representation of the Iron Lady), “The Stars Look Down,’’ and “Solidarity’’ may have you tapping your toes and clenching your fists at the same time. 'Solidarity' in particular is ingeniously executed, merging in one production number the passions of the miners, the implacability of the police, and the uncertain aspirations of the youthful ballet class to which Billy belongs.

Hairspray @ Hackmatack Playhouse, Berwick ME
        Hairspray is a big show that needs a big cast and a lot specific body types. Hackmatack had all the bases covered. I counted 27 cast pictures outside (program lists 32 cast members), many with costume changes! And it wasn't just piano as I had assumed it would be, but 3 pieces (piano, sax and drums). I was at the (Wed) first performance and I could see from the first row (they were right above me) that there was not a single misstep in all the production and dance numbers, and everyone was in the big cast was in character all the time. The finale was great too, as it should be.

        I asked at the box office about where the cast comes from and they told me quite a few for this show came from NY and that volunteers helped put them up. The girl I sat next too had a connection to the show and she told me all the black cast [maybe 8 or 9 black teens (three doubling as girl trio) + motor mouth Mabel (Debra Thais Evans, a real pro, who had played this role in a national tour of Hairspray)] had come in from NY, and Tracy's bio (Jennie Geoffroy) indicates she is out of NY too. Apparently the fat guy who played Edna Turnblad (Scott Smith), he was excellent, is local as was the younger looking guy who played Wilbur Turnblad (Joseph Dalfonso). Linette Miles as Velma von Tussle is apparently another local who is great. I sat next to someone who was Link's aunt (Chris Kane), and she told me he dances in NY and was the tap dancing star of Singing in the Rain at Hackmatack last year.

        Two nearby (NH) theater graduates did fine as Amber von Tussle (Laura Loy) and Penny Pingleton (Samantha St. Onge). Samantha is very pretty and has been in three of Hackmatack's productions this summer, including Boeing, Boeing coming up. I rather like her. I plan to see her in Boeing, Boeing, where she will be one of the three stewardesses. She has a simple web site with a thin bio of someone just starting out ( [update --- 2015 check finds her website is dead, and no credits at an artist site beyond the 2012 shows at Hackmatack. It's a brutal business.]

Hackmatack Playhouse production of Hairspray (July 2012)

(update) Scott Smith as Edna Turnblad (right) in 2013 returned to Hackmatack as the lead in Les Mis (Jean Valjean)!

Samantha St Onge checking out black choclate

(source --

        This show has a three week run, so I have two more weeks to catch it. This time due to chancy weather and Billy Elliot on Tues I stayed at a new place (Comfort Inn, Dover), about 7-8 miles south of the Playhouse, straight up Rt 9. Dover has little charm (and slow traffic!), but it has the only hotels near to Hackmatack. Three of them are all together on the north edge of the city, where the 75 cent toll road from Portmouth come in. Comfort Inn was a good choice, a city type motel, but very comfortable. I swam in their smallish indoor heated pool, easy to get too. $30-50 cheaper in July than my two usual places on the coast. I worked the maps hard to see how to get from Ogunquit to Hackmatack, but it's not clean, there a north and south route, but both pretty long as there is direct east-west road. In future for a good show like this a commute from Kenneybunkport is practical. Johnson restaurant is close, 3 miles from Playhouse in North Berwick, serves up great seafood (my baked scallops and haddock was swimming in butter!).

Hackmatack theater history
        It is a real barn on a real (still working) farm pretty much in the middle of nowhere in Berwick ME. The theater opened in 1972, so this is the 40th season, making it much older than the Arundle Barn theater. The playbill lists the founder as S. Carleton Guptill (dead). The 55-60ish white haired man who speaks before the show is probably his son Michael Guptill, now the theater's executive producer and owner. He always starts his talks saying his name is Guptill and "I grew up on this farm!" (Another Guptill works in the box office.) The bison are part of the farm and are a project of a son of the Guptill family age 25. (When I asked a lady at the theater food stand at intermission about the bison, since they were nowhere to be seen that night, she said had never heard of the bison!) This farm has been owned by the Guptill family since the 1600s! The playhouse barn was winched from across Rt 9 sometime in the 30-40's taking three days with horse turning the winch. The barn has been improved a little since, with an added stage house, hung control area and concrete floor.

How Hackmatack Playhouse looks on a wam summer night
(Hackmatack postcard scan)

        I did in fact get back to see Hairspray two more times (3 total), so I now pretty much know the tricks to getting there. Each time I sat in first row even though most shows were pretty much capacity (they did much better than Arundle Barn theater this summer, at least with this show, even though they are miles from everything). The ticket trick is to call and ask for 1st row. They don't normally sell it, as you need to look up, but I like it. Also for $6 you can get homemade blueberry pie with ice cream (made by the owner's wife) at intermission.
Hairspray video (update Aug 2013)
        I found an interesting 3 min amateur video of Hackmatack's Hairspray (taken from 1st row) that gives the flavor of the show. I found it a year later on Samantha St Onge's new web site, and, of course, it has been edited to feature her. (You can see here what I mean about competitiveness. While she is above average for the performers I see in ME barns, her voice is just not that strong (she fudges the few notes that other performers belt) nor is she really good looking.

        On my three Hairspray trips I drove in from three different directions. It's perfectly drivable from Kennybunkport and Ogunquit (about 30 min, 15-18 miles). I stayed one time in Ogunquit (Seafarer), one time in Kennebunk (Econo Lodge) both inexpensive with small outdoor pools. It about 20 min (10 miles) from Comfort Inn (and other hotels) in Dover NH. There's no place closer, except a bed and breakfast (Angel of the Berwicks), with a few rooms in North Berwick (near Johnsons). Each trip I had had a good dinner (at 6:30) in Johnson's in North Berwick  ( just 3 miles from the theater. Great seafood (big servings, lots of butter) and prime rib too.

        The drive from Ogunquit is 15 miles on a small, twisty, but lightly traveled road. (Ok in good weather in daytime, but I wouldn't want to drive it in the rain or at night.) The road from Kennebunk (or Kennebunkport) is a much faster, straighter road (6-7 miles, about 8 min, from ME turnpike entrance). The tricky part about driving from Ogunquit is avoiding the 2 mile, very slow moving, traffic backup that forms from downtown Ogunquit south all the way to the Ogunquit theater every day in summer. Getting into this looks like a nighmare. The standard routes from Ogunquit all specify driving north of Ogunquit, but this is not possible from Seafarer at 6:00 pm. One trick driving from Ogunquit (from Seafarer across from Ogunquit theater) is to go south on rt 1 to Logging Road (2-3 miles). This joins Clay Hill rd (left turn) that has a bridge that crosses ME turnpike, then immediately turn north on North Village Rd (2-3 miles), from there it's a straight (if twisty) shot to North Berwick. I later found another way (2 mile vs 4 mile) to get to the same bridge. At the motel get into traffic and go north just 0.2 miles from SeaFarer to Agamenticus Rd (joins rt 1 at a sharp angle on top of hill just pass Admiral). Adamenticus Rd soon turns into Clay Hill Rd. It's possible to come back in the evening on somewhat better roads (rt 9b) or (rt 9, better but longer) that rejoin rt 1 north of Ogunquit. (On Mapquest you can pull the suggested route to find the details.)

Boeing, Boeing @ Hackmatack Playhouse, Berwick ME
        Hackmatack did such a great job with Hairspray (huge cast, all wonderfully cast and prepared), and I knew that Penny Pingleton from Hairspray was staying on, that I had to go see their next production (last of the season), the five door farce/comedy Boeing, Boeing. Didn't really know what to expect, but knew it was to be a much smaller cast and production. The comedy/farce Boeing, Boeing about three stewardesses was revived on Broadway in 2008 (didn't see the Broadway production). This farce has a long history (english version dates from 1962, derived from an original french farce) and benefits a lot (I am sure) from featuring three good looking babes who spend much of the play in their vintage airline stewardess uniforms with short tight skirts. On my first and (so far) only viewing (I saw it twice) it's a good thing there is something pretty to look at on stage, because as a play/farce it's not all that great!

        In my first visits ever to Hackmatack (three visits to see Hairspray) I grew to like a lot the rural, quiet barn-theater ambiance of Hackmatack (shows in the barn for 40 years!) with their friendly staff (dedicated owner, Michael Guptill who lives on the farm) and unique homemade pies (and cheesecake) at intermission. Not to mention that on each visit to Hackmatack I combined it with dinner at Johnson's in North Berwick (on Rt 9), 3 miles away, where they do fish and steak the downhome ME way. Very pleasant summer evening on a real ME farm under the stars (sometimes with bison!). On a later visit I discovered and walked around a huge hay field to the right out back which was dotted with ten foot high hay rolls, the only time I have ever seen hay rolls up close. The drive from Kenneybunkport is not difficult, about 30 min on good roads, not much different from driving to Ogunquit, maybe a tad longer (18 vs 15 miles?), but faster with less traffic, and Johnson's is on the way. (Telephone to sit close. First row nearly always available since they don't normally sell these seats, which are somewhat low to the stage, but I like 1st row center.)

        I wanted to see again Samantha St. Onge again who stood out as the excellent Penny Pingleton in Hairspray, this time as a stewardess in heels. Hackmatack provides little to no info about their casts online (no photos), but I had seen on Samantha's personal web site during Hairspray that she was going to be in Boeing Boeing too. Samantha St. Onge is a recent theater grad of a NH university and is just starting out as a singer and actress. I wish her well, she has a distinctive look, and has gotten some good press for her three shows at Hackmatack this summer.

        I found two others in the cast of six of Boeing, Boeing had also been in Hairspray: the male lead (Joseph Dalfonso) had been Wilbur Turnblad and Adam MacDougall had been the principle, etc. All the cast was good with a nice performance by Tinka Darling as the maid. She I assume is an amateur. Her bio points out has long been a Hackmatack regular (30 productions!). From Adam MacDougall's bio I see his is also a musician and has been the music director for a lot of shows at Hackmatack. He's good in a comedy too, both here in a big role and in the three small over the top characters in Hairspray. Joseph Dalfonso bio says little, except that he has been in several productions here over the last three years.

Samantha St. Onge as stewardess Gabriella (previously Penny Pingleton in Hairspray)
in Hackmatack's production of Boeing, Boeing, Aug 2012
source ---

Crystal Lisbon, Samantha St Onge, and Abby Langsted

three stewardesses in first London production of Boeing, Boeing in 1962

    One site has a whole bunch of pictures of various casts of Boeing Boeing over the years, like those below:

various casts of Boeing, Boeing
source ---

Samantha St. Onge follow up (Aug 2013)
        I often wonder how many of the recent graduates of musical theater programs I see performing in summer theater in ME (essentially) never work professsionally again, i.e. after one summer of 'barn' work after graduation they can't get jobs and soon give up. Most of the performers I see at Arundle, for example, are modestly talented, but nearly all have with weaknesses (not pretty enough, not that good a singer or dancer) that I suspect put them at a huge disadvantage. When I look at the names and pictures of perfomers at Arundle from summers ten years ago, none are familar.

        So a summer after seeing Ms St. Onge at Hackmatack in two shows in 2012 (she was in three), I decided to check on her web site ( to see if she has worked during the last year. It was dead, not a good sign. She has an unusual name, so I put it in Bing and a few photos of her were there and that led me to her new web site ( (Poorly chosen, because it looks like it Samantha Stonge!) There I found more pictures of her last year at Hackmatack and even a video of her in Hackmatack's Hairspray (shot from a few rows back). Unclear if she has worked in the last year, maybe, she doesn't date her performances on her reseme. In addition to the summer 2012 shows at Hackmatack, she has been in one show at SeaCoast (ensemble), Good Theater (Portland), and Steel Magnolias at StageOne productions (Manchester dinner theater), and touring shows to schools in NY or NJ.

Damn Yankees @ Ogunquit Theater, Ogunquit ME
        Ogunquit production of Damn Yankee's here done to its usual high standards, but I only saw this production once. This is the first time I had ever seen the show on stage, but it is not my favorites, I think this is a rather thin show. Here it was reworked, as is the local tradition, to be a contest with the Boston Red Sox (rather than Washington), but candidly this is a tiny part of the show. An excellent ball playing (dancer chorus) who as one reviewer noted don't move like dancers, but in a very naturalistic way, is featured. The ball players and their coach were a real strength of the show, but at the same time less interesting, because they appear not to be dancing, but playing ball, and for a while this means standing around while sound effects of whizzing balls and bats carry the plot.

Ogunquit production of Damn Yankees, Aug 2012

        I found my attention wandering in the seduction scenes with Lola, who is Jeffry Denman (the director and who I first saw as a song and dance man at North Shore in Crazy for You) wife. Maybe it was the acting, but these scenes just seemed silly. Also the devil, Carson Kressley, who seems to get a lot of press (for god knows what), looked like an unskilled amateur, far out of his depth, hired only because he provides the show with a 'name', albeit a minor 'name'.

9 to 5 the Musical @  Ogunquit Theater, Ogunquit ME
        Excellent cast and good production, but this show is weak. No emotional depth to the book, cartoon characters, we don't love them or care about them, just a straightforward translation of the movie. The score by Dolly Parton is tuneful, sort of country rock, but all the songs pretty much sound the same, and there is not a memorable song in the whole show. I wasn't expecting much, since I had seen it (from a poor seat) when it was on Broadway a few years ago. And the choreography, where is it? The show has an ensemble of 10-12 who are obviously trained dancers, but they are never featured, hardly ever do more than a few steps, mostly they move scenery around and form a backdrop. (This is probably a flaw in the original production.) The production, to get star power, features Dolly Pardon on video, not only in the introduction, but even in the bows, which is just weird and I think somewhat insulting to the cast.

       After writing my impression of the show, I looked up the NY reviews. Yup, Brantley of the NYT dumps all over the show: "overinflated whoopee cushion, a gaudy, empty musical. The show lumbers through its two and a half hours in a blur of heavy moving scenery. It overmilks and overmikes tuneful songs by Ms. Parton".

        On a repeat viewing I see a couple of the songs identified by Brantley aren't too bad. DoraLee sings “Backwoods Barbie” about too much hair and makeup, and Judy gets a mini-showstopper (finishing downstage, center, of course) “Get Out and Stay Out, which Brantley calls a standard-issue anthem of empowerment. But except for 'Get out and stay out', most of the songs get lost in the show.

        I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Dolly Parton's part in the movie (Doralee Rhodes) was played by my old friend Becky Gulsvig, the star last season of Legally Blond. I had sat next to her father in the audience last summer (total luck), and he told me about her background and having just had a baby. I don't remember her as being really busty last year, but here she looks a lot like Dolly Parton with a lot of sweater meat, and while some of it may be padding, when she bend over I could see from the 2nd row that a lot was real. Maybe she is still breast feeding her baby of last year.

        Really excellent was Edward Staudenmayer as the boss, Franklin Hart, Jr.. (Curiously I see half way through the run, he has been replaced.) His bio says he has been associated with Forbidden Broadway for 17 years and he has the broad, over the top, comic skills this part calls for onstage. Sally Struthers as Roz Keith is a pro and always does a good job. The other two girls of the trio were also excellent and an excellent fit to the roles. Erica Aubrey was the office trainee, Judy Bernly (Jane Fonda's part) and the office supervisor was Carrie McNulty. Carrie acts well and sort of holds the show together. She is also a dancer, her bio shows she has danced Velma Kelly in Chicago. All three of the women trio sing very well. Too bad all this talent is not put to better use in a better show.

Edward Staudenmayer (as Franklin Hart, Jr.) and Sally Struthers (as Roz Keith)
in Ogunquit's production of 9 to 5 (Aug 2012)

Becky Glulsvig with Edward Staudenmayer

Edward Staudenmayer and Becky Glulsvig

Becky Gulsvig, Erica Aubrey ('Are these real?'), and Carrie McNulty

Erica Aubrey as trainee Judy Bernly                                 Carrie McNulty as office supervisor

 Carrie McNulty, Becky Gulsvig, and, Erica Aubrey in finale

Erica Aubrey with dancers

        I was at the show opening night (actually 3rd performance) and saw a large video camera set up all the way in the back corner (behind last row of seats). I spoke to the operator at the end of the show, and he said they only record on opening night. And as I suspected this is the video used to make the 2-3 min HD YouTube promos. Surprised at how good the quality considering how far back the camera is located, and they do a lot of closeups. The production team that does this do good work, and I told him this.

        Here is the HD promo video (3 min) from which most of the images above come. (Sally Struthers advertised as the 'star' of the show, but really just the 'name' is not in the video.)

First row seats summer 2012
        In a long consecutive run of shows in summer 2012 I scored the 1st row seats in 15 of 18 (an unbreakable record!). First row at all four performances of Billy Elliot at Boston Opera House, all five performances at Hackmatack (three for Hairspray and two for Boeing, Boeing), two shows at Arundle Barn (Rocky Horror Show and Judy Galand show), My Fair Lady at Regal Players, two of the three shows at Stoneham Theater summer young company (Zanna Don't and Legally Blonde), and Car Talk the Muscial at Central Sq Theater. Had good seats, but not first row, at the other three, Ogunquit shows (Damn Yankees (8th row) and 9 to 5 (2nd row) and Prom at Stoneham Theater (3rd row).
My Fair Lady @ Regal Players, Waltham MA
        I love Sarah Pfisterer, who I have seen in a lot of shows at Reagle. She sings beautifully, but here I was disappointed in her acting. I have seen maybe four productions of My Fair Lady. An effective high point of the show dramatically in (at least some productions I have seen) is when Liza suddenly seems to get the hang of pronouncing words correctly, but here it was not played effectively at all. There seemed to be far too little contrast in Liza's speech between the early and middle parts of the play, also I don't remember Sarah having much of an accent. She was not bad, but something was missing. In the later duchess scenes, probably more aligned with her usual roles, she was fine. My guess is Sarah is in her mid-40's now and looked in some scenes rather matronly, too old for the part. The show loses something when Henry and Liza look to be the same age. Liza's entrance in her ball gown, which can be a striking moment as it was in the Ogunquit production a few years ago, was here just completely thrown away.

        Her husband, Rick Hilsabeck, who I had never seen before, but had played a staring role in some Broadway (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) show for 1,200 performances, was professor Higgens. Competent, but I have seen better. The large cast was beautifully prepared and costumed and the opening tableau was striking, they were also very effective in the scene at the races.

        Rick Hilsabeck (as Henry Higgens) and Sarah Pfisterer (as Liza Doolittle)
in Regal Players production of My Fair Lady (Aug 2012)

Young company 2012 summer season @ Stoneham Theater, Stoneham MA
        In Aug 2012 the kids at Stoneham Theater as a culmination of their weeks of summer theater training performed six different shows over two long weekends. I missed the (three) shows done by the elementary and middle school kids this year, but caught all three productions by the high school kids: Zanna Don't, Legally Blond, and Prom. Legally Blond is one of my favorite shows and I had bought this ticket far in advance. Never heard of Zanna Don't and Prom, but I was impressed. Unfortunately I can't find any pictures at all of these shows or their casts, neither from the theater or from reviews (none).

Zanna Don't

Legally Blond


Beyond the Rainbow: The New Judy Garland Musical @ Arundle Barn Theater, Arundle ME
        This is not a one woman show. It is a bio type play (cast of six) about Judy's life combined with a LOT of Judy's famous songs sung in the Judy Garland manner by an older Judy (at Carnegie Hall) and a few by a younger Judy (dressed as Judy in Wizard of Oz). I did not go into this show with high expectations, and I was not surprised. I did not like this show. I went that evening to Arundle because of no other good choices, and it is very pleasant on a warm summer night to go out into the country (you can often see fireflys at intermission!) to see theater in a real barn in Maine, regardless of the show!

        The cast was quite talented and worked hard, but the show is badly crafted. Two big problems, two many songs and a depressing story line. There were far too many songs, nearly all sung in the same manner, with too much amplification, at the same emotional level, in the same, set, with both Judys all evening in the same costume. The actress doing older Judy sounded and looked a lot like Judy (I suspect she is a specialist in this role), and I know this impressed others in the audience, but not me. Too much, boring, how much can a person take. Now Judy's life was difficult in many ways, yet had many great achievements. In the story line, we get only the down moments one after another all evening. Can you say depressing. And every salacious rumour about Judy's life was included even a brief scene implying that Vincent Manelli and Jack Warner were lovers (who knew, who cares, and a quick look online does not even turn up this rumour).

        I have a good contrast, a Judy show I like. Stoneham native, Kathy St. George, has done a one woman Judy Garland show (Dear Miss Garland) to great acclaim the last two summers at Stoneham Theater. It has some biopic stuff, quite a few songs, a lot of costume changes and importantly some humor too. (Cathy does a 10 min version of Wizard of Oz, playing all the parts, that is a scream.) And variety, the whole tone of the show changes at intermission, in the 2nd act a band in tuxes appears (only piano in 1st act) with the costumes changing from informal to formal. Keeps the show fresh. At Arundle nothing changed at intermission, not the tone of the show, not even the costumes of the two Judys!

Car Talk the Musical @ Central Square Theater, Cambridge MA
        An original musical, book and lyrics by Wesley Savick, music by Mich Wartofsky, a crazy garage set with trap doors and car puppets (!), a wild high energy pastiche of a (boring) story telling mixed with forgettable original songs and nine parody production numbers from a bunch of other musicals. A big hit, it was extended several times and ran through the whole summer of 2012. Not expecting much I didn't go until the end of the run and only because it had been extended several times. I sat in first row, which for this production was about as close to the stage as you can get.

        Apparently this show arose somehow from Suffolk Univ, who is a coproducer. (Savick bio says he is a tenured Suffock prof and Wartofsky teaches at Berkley.) While there are a few recorded seqments of Tom and Ray supporting the story, this show really has nothing to do with the real Car Talk radio show, it's sort of a rip off. One of the authors in the playbill pretty much admits this, saying what was adopted was the 'sprit' of Car Talk.

        Scott H. Severance and Leight Barret, who unfortunately was out during the performance I saw, were the stars along with Maureen Keiller plus a bunch of dancers from Boston Conservatory. The only other time I have ever seen Severance, who as I remember is based in NH, was as the wonderful Herbie in Gypsy at Stoneham. His bio says he has been in 300 production (hard to believe as this is 10 shows a year for 30 years!), so he's a flexible performer.

Tiffany Chen and Scott H. Severance (with The Wizard of Cahs)
in Central Square Theater, Car Talk the Musical (Aug 2012)
Photo: A.R. Sinclair Photography

Scott Severance, Maureen Keiller, xxx, and Leigh Barrett

Mikado @ Lyric Stage, Boston MA
        This is a Mikado done by a cast that (with one exception) can really sing. And as one reviewer noted, it is done in a classical style with everyone in authentic looking Japanese costumes, including everyone in wood clogs with white toe socks, and set in a Japanese garden. As the Lyric usually does there were postings of background material about the play in the lobby. I read a long essay by Gilbert about how the Mikado came to be, and it's clear that this essay had to have been the source for much of the Gilbert and Sullivan film Topsy Turvy directed by Mike Leigh.

Lumberjacks in Love @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        The 2nd Wisconsin musical by (late) Fred Alley and James Kaplan to be presented at Stoneham, a follow up to the wonderful Guys on Ice, the ice fishing musical. The Stoneham marquee touts it as a "new musical", but a check of the home Wisconsin site (American Folklore Theater) shows it was written in 1996 and has been revived four times. They write that of the dozen or so shows that its cofounder Fred Alley wrote before his early death his two best ('classic') shows are Guys on Ice and Lumberjacks in Love.

        All I know of Wisconsin is Milwaukee in the south east corner of the state (near Chicago) that I visited on business once or twice. Turns out that American Folklore Theater is 150 miles north of Milwaukee and pretty remote. It's in Fish Creek, WI, which Google Earth shows is way up on a 75 mile long north oriented peninsular into Lake Michigan. Together with a south oriented peninsula coming down from Michigan they form a big bay in Lake Michigan called Green Bay, and the city of Green Bay is at the bay's southern end. Fish Creek is a small resort artistic community about 60 miles up the peninsular from Green Bay. From their web site American Folklore Theater doesn't appear to have their own theater, they perform at three locations in Fish Creek.

        As to the show, not as good as Guys on Ice. Guys on Ice had a lot of corny jokes, but a lot of good songs and a sweetness in comparing the death of fish with how you can go at any time. This show is a song fest with (as seen below) pretty much everyone playing an instrument, but the storyline is just plain silly, just an excuse for a lot of comic 'business' mixed with the songs. The song are original country type songs, but nothing really memorable. I didn't go back to see the show again, whereas I saw Guys on Ice several times.

Steven Barkhimer, Vanessa J. Schukis, Mark Linehan, Darcie Champagne, William Gardiner, Harry McEnerny
in Stoneham Theatre production of Lumberjacks in Love (Sept 2012)

Buddy, The Buddy Holly Story @ Ogunquit Theatre, Ogunquit ME
        Last show of the 2012 summer season is a bio show about Buddy Holly with all the music provided by the cast members. The lead, Kurt Jenkins, not only looks and sings like Buddy Holly, but he is an excellent guitar player. He also has performer moves, hopping around the stage, standing on the bass, playing with guitar behind his head. Most of the ensemble actors in the first act we find in the 2nd act are also musicians: playing trumpet, piano, violin and long time Stoneham favorite Steve Gagliastro (Fully Monty, Sisters of Swing) playing trombone, so no orchestra needed for this last show of the season. This cast really does put on good, high energy rock and roll concert (with a fifties flair). I especially liked one of the backup girl singers (in red in first picture below, Danielle Erin Rhodes?), she always looked like she was really having fun.

        One thing that turned me off was this show was badly overmiked. I was on the side somewhat near the speakers, and there the volume was earsplitting, made me want to run from the theater. I guess rock and roll is supposed to be loud? The show builds to what amounts to a 20-30 min or so concert at the end, which has a nice fade out when it is announced that Buddy Holly (age 22) and two other performers (Richey Valens, 17, and Big Bopper, 28?) have died in a small plane crash that the plot indicates was flying at night in a bad snow storm. Holly's whole national career lasted only about 18 months.

        I had never heard of this show. Turns out it goes way back to 1989, and it has been much bigger in the UK. It was written in UK and played 12 years in the West End, one of the longest running musicals ever in UK! It had only a brief Broadway run but has toured nationally and been performed regionally. There was a 1978 movie too with the same title, Buddy played by Gary Busey. From what I read this so-called ' jukebox musical' sticks closer to the truth than the movie, and credit for this goes to Paul McCartney who owned the copyrights to Holly's music.

Kurt Jenkins as Buddy Holly in Ogunquit Theater production of the Buddy Holly Story (Oct 2012)

The How and the Why @ Central Square Theater, Cambridge MA
        I like plays with a scientific flavor and this play qualifies. A two person play about two female evolutionary biologists, each a proponent of a (real) and conflicting theory about why women in an evolutionary sense live so long after their child bearing years. Hence the title: 'The How and the Why', which as they say in the play can be asked of almost any biological fact. The author of this new play has made the two biologists mother and daughter with them meeting for the first time after the daughter was given up as a baby.

        Debra Wise is the artistic director of the Underground Railway Theater (one of the artistic companies of the Central Sq Theater) and also has theater tie in with MIT. She was in the play about Alan Turing (Breaking the Code).  Samantha Richert is a recent graduate of the acting program at Brandeis, and her bio shows she has been doing a lot of work at Primary Stages in NYC.

Samantha Richert and Debra Wise in Central Square Theater's production of 'The How and the Why' (Oct 2012)

act 2 set

War Horse @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA
        From the live cameras of times square I can see the War Horse sign, so I guess War Horse which opened in 2011 at Lincoln Center is still playing in NY (scheduled to close in Jan 2013). I had a couple of opportunities to see it in NY, but didn't get to it (partly because getting to theater in Lincoln Center is not the most convenient, and partly because I knew it coming to Boston in fall 2012). Didn't know what to expect. A play about war and horses, and a boy finding his horse after WWI? This is the national tour, only played two weeks in Boston.

        My guess is that the book from which the story line comes was a children's book. (Yup) It works pretty well here for an evening (drags a little in 2nd act) primarily because of the wonderful tall horse puppets, who you soon come to see as real horses, combined with great lighting (and sound) effects, and fantastically detailed action, which is continuous all the time the horse are on stage. The plot line while simple is clean and done well, the downer plot (much of the play full of the butchery of WWI both men and horse, the play leaven here and there with music sung and played onstage. This play is a superb example of the magic that live theater can be. ("The Most Thrilling Visual Spectacle Ever Encountered in the Commercial Theater" says a Los Angeles review) When the foal (Joey) morphs into a full grown horse (about 10 feet high who can be ridden), the audience applauds when the horse exits the stage.

        The show has two the theoretical moments that are fantastic. One is the captain high up on his horse just getting into combat getting hit in the chest by an artillery shell. The artillery shell is brought in by a man, who you learn 'not to see' because these same men run the horse puppets in full view, and when it hits the man, the lighting explodes and he flys off the horse backward (on wires I guess). The other effect is the climatic end of act I. The two large mounted horses are charging downstage toward the Germans with their riders screaming that they don't see the any holes in the horse killing barbed wire that artillery shells were supposed to have opened. Just as they reach the barb wire (at full gallop), they urge their horse to try and jump, there is flash of light the stage goes dark. And within a few seconds when the lights come up for intermission the stage is entirely clear, I don't know how they cleared the stage so quickly.

Joey learning to pull a plow
War Horse National tour (Boston, Oct 2012

Topthorn and Joey can be ridden too

Boston Globe review (by Don Aucoin) sums up the show very well
       "The sights and sounds of battle have seldom been rendered more vividly than in this remarkable show, a national touring production presented by Broadway In Boston and directed by Bijan Sheibani. A lot of ­ingenious stagecraft has been put to very powerful use, with image after blindingly sudden image of combat and its casualties, human and animal, that capture the chaos, futility, and waste of war.
        The wondrous horse puppets designed by the Handspring Puppet Company are not just life-sized but compellingly lifelike. Even as a foal, glimpsed through a swirling mist on the Opera House stage, Joey has charisma to burn. Though he and the other horses, including an imposing rival named Topthorn, are operated by puppeteers who are plainly visible, after a while you almost forget they’re there. I can’t think of any greater testament to their skill.
        Nick Stafford’s script for “War Horse,’’ adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s children’s novel, is not in the same class as those three dramas. The spectacle’s the thing with “War Horse.’’ But what a spectacle it is."

Los Angeles Theater Review nails it too
    The Most Imaginative Use of Puppetry on an Epic Scale
    The Most Thrilling Visual Spectacle Ever Encountered in the Commercial Theater
    The Most Visceral and Harrowing Depiction of the Madness of War Ever Put on a Stage

Double Indemnity @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        What an intricate and clever plot with punchy dialog, and it works well on stage. I went into this play knowing nothing of the movie or the plot, so it was entirely new to me. The Stoneham production is very well performed by a cast of five led by Lewis D. Wheeler, who was one of the sons last year at the great Long Day's Journey at New Rep last season, and Aimee Doherty. Wheeler is not only one of the two central characters in the play, he also acts as the narrator. I see from the site below that Aimee Doherty was this summer in Chorus Line at the Reagle (Sheila Bryant). The rest of the cast taking multiple roles: Melis Aker, who while still a theater student at Tufts has become a Stoneham regular after her wonderful starring role in 'I Capture the Castle' last season (and playbill says she will be in 'These Shining Lives' at the end of the season). Michael Underhill was also in 'I Capture the Castle' (on of the two brothers I guess), and new to me Sean McQuirk as the tough old insurance investigator (also husband to Aimee). Well, I see from the online site 'About the Artists' (below) that I did see Sean McQuirk before, he was in the Adding Machine at the SpeakEasy. (And I see he has played Wilbur Turnblad at Theater by the Sea.)

        The set accomodates quick transitions between many locations be use sliding panels that open to spare sets with just one or two pieces of furniture (two chairs serve for a scene in a car). The lighting goes from naturalistic most of the time to high contrast film noir style at critical moments, by the simple use of a few small spots at the front of the state. The picture right, shows the effect and the panels.

Aimee Doherty and Lewis Wheeler
in Stoneham Theatre's production of Double Indemnity (Oct 2012)

Lewis Wheeler                      Sean McGuirk

        For some reason (probably connected with staff turnover) Stoneham has not been posting pictures recently.

        I found this neat site for Boston actors (below). It shows the procutions they have been in during the last two or three years.

Race @ New Rep, Watertown, MA
        Race is a fairly new play by David Mamet. Here is does to lawyers what he did to salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross. I saw the play in NYC (on Broadway) in a limited run done by one the major subscription houses in 2009 and really liked it. This is the first Boston area production. (I had suggested it Stoneham Theater a couple of years ago.) I had totally forgotten how short the play is running only one hour and 15 minutes (without intermission). (I am doubly puzzled when I see the running time of the NYC production listed as 1 hr, 40 min, and I have a vague memory it had an intermission. Yup, Brantley of the NYT talks about the first and second act.) This play takes a strong actor for the wily senior lawyer, and in the NYT premier it was well played by James Spader. The new rep found the actor they needed in Ken Cheeseman. New to me, but I see he has worked at the Trinity, Yale, and around town. (Turns out I have seen him once before because his bio says he was in 'All my Sons' at the Huntington, in I think a minor role). The other three cast members I don't think I have ever seen before. The girl, Miranda Craigwell, has been working in the UK.

        I have always remembered (and quoted) a clever retort in the play, and in this production not only was is almost thrown away, but it was changed! As I remember it, it goes like this: the senior lawyer prompts his female intern with something like, 'What do I always say?'. She says, "You can win any case", and he says, "Corollary?", to which she replies, "If you only take cases you can win." I have no idea if this is original or not with Mamet, for all I know is lawyer lore. My problem here is that 'Corollary' was changed to 'Addendum'. 'Corollary' is good enough for NYC, but Boston gets dumbed down.

Ken Cheeseman, Miranda Craigwell, Cliff Odle, and Patrick Shea
in New Rep production of David Mamet's 'Race' (Oct 2012)

NY premier 2009 production of Race with James Spader, David Alan Grier and Richard Thomas

      I stumbled on this good review of the 2010 NYC production

Boston Ballet Fall program @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA
        Three modern pieces with a European flavor. Wow, you can really see how good the BB dancers are in modern works. A fun piece BB did last season to music of the Rolling Stones is Rooster by Christopher Bruce, a new Elo piece (Awake only), and a piece BB did last year by William Forsythe (The Second Detail). I liked all three pieces, an excellent program.

         Rooster is real fun with a signature move of the men strutting about bobbing their heads combined with an Elvis like hair comb. This piece was danced by soloists and corp members. In Awake Only Elo has greatly reduced the amount of quirky-jerky little movements that clutter his dances in favor of clean motion. His new piece set to nine pieces of Bach played (live) on the piano and organ features the new young principal Jeffry Cirio who has critics raving. He is a little guy who is a phenomenal jumper and full of personality. His older sister Lia Cirio, also a principal dancer, was in the piece too. The men were featured in both of these pieces. The Forsythe work is to non-musical rhythmic 'noise' score, but it works with lots of fast clean ensemble dancing. This is actually the second program prepared by the company this fall, because they made a five day trip to Finland a month earlier (in Sept) with an all modern program. The Second Detail was the only Boston piece that was on the Finland program.

        BB doesn't seem to value photos. I can't find any photos of the Fall Program on their site, or for that matter even a photo section. The do have a press section with reviews, but they post the only the text stripping the photos! A search of reviews for photos came up nearly dry, couple of low resolution photos of a single dancer (which could be from almost anything). A scan of the playbill cover was about the best I could do.

BB principal Lia Cirio

BB soloist John Lam
(probably) Forsythe's 'The Second Detail', Oct 2012

Related footnote
       I had an invite to see the BB in class on a Tues morning at their Back Bay studios on a non-performance day during the run of the 2012 Fall program, but what do you know, it was Tues morning and that was the 2nd day of the 2012 hurricane in Boston, so didn't get there. I was called (late Tues morning) that it was to be held anyway, but since a lot of people were opting out, I was told that they would try and reschedule in spring 2013.

Guys and Dolls @ North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly MA
        This show has a lot of very good songs, but somehow this production seemed a little flat, not sure exactly why. One reason I suspect is with the new management at North Shore in some shows (like this one) scenery is minimal, so mostly it is actors on a relatively bare stage. Many of the principals were fine and the dancers were fine, but one (or two) of the principals were a little weak, and I think this was the major problem I had with the show. Maybe direction too (about which I know next to nothing) was also a problem. For example, the close of the first act with its iconic Q&A: "What kind of doll are you? I'm a mission doll", really fell flat, and one reason I think is that after 'mission doll' there should have been a black out (is this feasible in theater in round?), but instead Sky Masterson (in light) just walks off the stage. Bad... I keep comparing this show with the far better cast and production at Ogunquit one or two years ago.

        Underneath the Damon Runyon dialogue and style this show is basically two love stories (Nathan Detroit + Adelaide, and sister Sarah Brown + Sky Masterson) supported by one of the featured gamblers (Nicely-Nicely Johnson) who leads in the big 2nd act production number, "Sit down your rocking the boat". This show is now over 60 years old (opened in 1950), and it has a lot of good songs by Frank Loesser. It's book was co-authored by Abe Burrows, who I remember well since when I was a kid, he was regular for years on some panel show on TV (What's my Line?). Of course, back then, I had no idea of what he had done. Wikipedia tells me that James Burrows, who was the principal director for many comedy shows including Mary Tyler Moore and Cheers and is still directing today, is his son.

        The weakest lead I thought was Sarah Brown (Kelly McCormick). McCormick is rather small and not that attractive in the plain mission suit, which hobbles everyone who plays this role, but the suit in this production had zero style. However, her main weakness I thought was her voice. It seemed (in some numbers) to be weak soprano and weak belt that did not fit together. However, I do agree with one reviewer she did very well is some songs like Marry the Man Today ("She has a grand scene with Adelaide during which the two perform the hilarious "Marry the Man Today" - deftly managing the complex interwoven harmonies leading into the number.")

        Mylinda Hull was excellent as Adelaide, as was Kevin Vortmann as Sky Masterson, and Wayne W. Pretlow as Nicely Nicely Johnson (great character name), who as required stops the show with 'Sit Down Your Rocking the Boat'. Jonathan Hammond grew on you in the comic Nathan Detroit role. In a small role (Arvide Abernathy of the Salvation Army) was Jamie Ross who though older still has a nice voice and pleasant manner in his one song ('More I Cannot Wish You'). His bio shows when younger he was featured in several Broadway shows, and I remember him from the Reagle Players where he was featured in a couple of shows this last season or two.

        Terry Bryne of the Globe (and most critics) didn't notice the weakness I did, "glorious-voiced McCormick"(!), says Byrne, and he even praises the direction. However, one critic did sense the weakness in the McCormick and Vortmann pairing, "Kelly McCormick as Sarah Brown and Kevin Vortmann as Sky Masterson have terrific voices, but the performers lack the energy required of these important roles." My reference for these roles was the 2009 Ogunquit production, where the performers Christian Hoff and Glory Crampton dominated the stage with their voices and stage presence. (These roles were played by Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons in the 1955 movie.)

Mylinda Hull as Miss Adelaide
in North Shore theatre's production of Guys and Dolls, Nov 2012

Kelly McCormick (center) as Sarah Brown

Guys and Dolls videos
        First is this North Shore 2011 production. Second is Ogunquit 2009 production with Christian Hoff and Glory Crampton (both are 320 dpi).

        Poking around on YouTube I came across a terrific 'Rocking the Boat' from the 1992-95 revival on Broadway (with Nathan Lane). This shows the kind of high energy with great choreography this showstopper can have, and I remember Ogunquit's version having the same flavor, but only a pale imitation of this was to be seen on the North Shore stage.

A winning ‘Guys and Dolls'
 By Terry Byrne,  THE BOSTON GLOBE.  November 02, 2012

        The North Shore Music Theatre hits the jackpot with this production of Loesser's "Guys and Dolls," delivering the musical theater triple threat: heavenly vocals, believable performances, and breathtaking choreography. Directed by Mark Martino with an exacting eye for detail, and brilliantly paced by musical director Craig Barna, it embraces all the beauty of Loesser's music without losing any of the fun of the story.

Oliver @ Arlington Friends of Drama, Arlington MA
        This was the first time I had seen Oliver live though I was vaguely familiar with the plot from snippets seen on TV many years ago. My first reaction is the book of this show is a cartoon with zero depth. Maybe this is what comes of trying to shorten a Dickens novel into a few pages of dialogue! Maybe it comes from the book being written by the writer of the songs and lyrics, all three written by Lionel Bart, who I will admit I never heard of. So while it has a lot of good songs, with such a weak book it's not really much of a show.

        The Arlington production was very good with a large cast featuring 12 or so 'boys' (many played by girls). Cast led by Dan Rabone (Fagin), Ann Olmstead (Nancy), John Royer (Mr. Bumble), Pedro Figuero (Bill Sykes, an unrequited nasty) with the star of this production being Dan Rabone. He really acts up a storm playing Fagin, all the while looking like he's having a ball (I saw the last performance). Ann Olmstead, as Nancy, was a strong singer, and also impressive as an actor was the young man (14-15) playing Arful Dodger, Jack Libresco. His bio shows he is serious about theater with major roles in four other shows.

Arlington Friends of Drama production of Oliver (Nov 2012)

        I did a little research and surprisingly found this 1960 British show has had a lot of long runs in the West End and NYC. It's got to be the song, many of which are quite good.

        "The plot of Dickens' original novel is considerably simplified for the purposes of the musical, with Fagin being represented more as a comic character than as a villain, and large portions of the latter part of the story being completely left out." (Wikipedia)
        Came across a couple of curious tidbits related to this show. In the original West End production the role of Fagin was play by the guy who now plays the Frank Pickle on Vicar of Dibley!  Davy Jones, who later would become one of the four Monkees, in the original Broadway production played the Artful Dodger. Georgia Brown was Nancy both in the original West End and Broadway productions. Many years later she played Dorothy Brock in a London production of the musical 42nd Street.

It's a Wonderful Life @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        This is the 2nd Christmas season Stoneham Theatre has done It's Wonderful Life, but the artistic director of the theater, Weylin Symes, was so unhappy with the first script that for the 2012 Christmas season he did his own adaptation. I was at a staged reading of his script this summer. At the reading Lineham and Steinbach were doing the roles they were later cast in. Since this movie has been shown regularly on TV for decades, nearly everyone knows it's key scenes, but plot is mostly melodramic nonsense. The good guys are good, the one bad guy (Potter) is really bad, the financial side of the plot pulls from people's memories of the 20' and 30's of bank runs and failing banks, long gone by the time the movie was made in 1946, though the original story had been written in 1939.

        Weylin said the reason he did the adaptation was the previous script was missing so many of the iconic moments of the movie. One of the missing iconic scenes he wanted to include was the dance floor opening and George and Mary falling into the pool beneath. At the time he didn't know how to handle this on stage except to suggest it would probably be some sort of lighting effect. The lighting effect worked sort of. Somehow I was expecting bars of light to sweep across the stage suggesting the floor opening, but thinking about it this would be expensive to pull off. How it was done was yelling that the floor was opening and, then a blue spotlight freeze hit George and Mary in an off balance pose.

        Wonderful cast staring Mark Linehan as George Baily, who does a great job, well matched to the charming, tall and lean Erin Brehm (new to Stoneham theater and me) as his sweetheart and wife Mary, with strong performances too by Bobby Steinbach (Mrs. Potter) and William Gardiner (angel Clarence), the latter two doubling as George's parents. Deirdre Burke, who I first saw in Stoneham student productions is now as a college senior (in biology) elegant and beautiful, here playing Violet, and as a long time dancer (she was a tap dancer in 42nd Street) she does a great Charleston (all of one minute in dim light!).

Mark Linehan and Erin Brehm in Stoneham Theatre’s production of 'It’s a Wonderful Life' (Nov 2012)

Mark Linehan (George Bailey) and William Gardiner (angel Clarence)
(Photo: David Costa)

Our Town @ Huntington's BCA Caulderwood Pavilion, Boston MA
        I read the very good reviews the off Broadway production of Our Town had gotten playing in a small theater in the (west) Village. It ran a long time (640 performances), and I searched out its hard to find theater once, but was unable to fit a visit into my schedule. A year or two later and the Huntington has a production Our Town at a small performance space in the Boston Center for the Arts complex in South Boston. First week of run I look for tickets and totally sold out, but a few days before Christmas I find a few seats available and snag a seat in the front row. This show has also gotten good reviews, and the run has been extended.

        Turns out this production is (almost for sure) the same as the NYC production. It's the same director (David Cromer), who in the first part of the run is also playing the narrator. This play (especially for a space) has an astoundingly large cast: 33 of whom 20 are featured. The rest only sit in chairs in two scenes, some at the wedding and all as residents of the town cemetery.

        I had never seen this classic Thornton Wilder play (1938) about the town folk of Grover's Corners NH in the theater, but I remember seeing it maybe 30-40 years ago on TV. This play has some classic lines, pearls of wisdom. For example the young son in the play just out of HS want to marry his next door sweetheart, but his father talking to mother objects saying he's not growed up yet. In reply she quietly says, "people are meant to go through life two by two." I've remembered this from the TV production for 35 years! Wilder giving us the wisdom of the common man. One reviewer pointed out that that the usual way of doing this play is like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. As I remember it, this was the style of the TV production with Hal Holbrook as the Stage Manager (narrator).

        But Cromer, who it a MacArthur genius winner, has come up with a different approach, hence all the press. I saw Cromer as the narrator, and he is incredibly breezy, fast and low key in his description of the town and its people. It is a little off putting. The actors are here not onstage. The house lights remain up during most of the production, the audience seating is three sides, and the actors work mostly in a small space in the center and also in a gap between the 1st and 2nd rows on each side. There is almost no scenery except a couple of tables and chairs, things are mimed. In the middle of the last act, while the cemetery residents in their chairs are telling the newly dead wife of the young son that it's too hard to go back to view her life,  there is a sudden surprising and dramatic shift in the action. A curtain draped across the 4th side (without audience) is suddenly pulled back to reveal a richly detailed set of a kitchen. The mother is frying bacon on the old stove, and really frying it, I who far away but I can hear it frying and later the smell of the bacon wafted my way.  (I wish I had been sitting closer to it, I was about as far away as you can be.)

        Did a YouTube search and sure enough found the TV production with Hal Holbrook as Stage Manager and Robby Benson and Glynnis O'Connor as the young lovers. Well it's the opening three minutes, but I bet it is all online somewhere (nope, looks like it's locked up). It was done in 1977 (35 years ago). In the opening they claim this play is the most performed play in the theater (presumably 40 years 1938 to 1977, and probably because it is widely done in schools since it takes no scenery). In the video I am surprised to see Holbrook is using a very twangy rural Me/NH accent. Cromer does away with this completely (as does the movie). There's also some video of Paul Newman playing the Stage Manager in 2002, and about 50 years earlier Newman had played the son in a TV musical version. Huntington quotes Wall St Journal as saying this is the best staging of this play you will ever see in your life. Not sure if I really like this production. I will have to see it again.

        A couple of weeks later I did see it again, and on a second viewing I liked it much better. This time there was a new Stage Manager (Joel Colodner), and I sat at the other end to be near the 3rd act kitchen scene. I much preferred Colodner as a stage manager to Cromer. Cromer was super low key, rather off putting I thought, whereas Colodner brings an actor's resonance voice and much more measured pacing. And I much more enjoyed the play seeing it the second time.

        Also between viewings I read up on the play and in a strange coincidence in the two weeks between the New Yorker, which I have a subscription to, did a feature article about Thorton Wilder about whom I knew nothing but his name. Turns out Wilder was a successful novelist and then took a break from writing novels to attempt to be a playwright. Our Town was an early effort and was a big success. The play even today has a somewhat unusual structure with the Stage Manager speaking directly to the audience and the use of almost no scenery (everything mimed), and I read was considered quite experimental in its time. Cromer has taken this a step further with the stage lights staying up and the cast mingling with audience.

        The New Yorker article makes clear there is some irony in the iconic line 'people are meant to go through (this) life two by two' since Wilder never married and was often alone. Wilder himself played the Stage Manager in more than a "dozen" productions says the New Yorker. Later Wilder rewrote an earlier play of his called 'The Merchant of Yonkers' into the 'Matchmaker' and this became the basis for the musical Hello Dolly.

        At the 2nd performance there was a talk back session with the actors. I asked about the frying bacon which I could smell all the way on the other side of the theater. I asked if this had always been a feature of the production in Chicago, LA, NY. Answer: yes, and there's an interesting back story. Turns out it takes a lot of work to get the frying pan in advance to just the right temperature so the bacon will sizzle and fry. If an empty cast iron pan gets too hot it emits a burned smell, so in the second act they heat the pan to just the right temperature. Looking at the cast iron stove, I'm pretty sure it just has a lamp in it to simulate fire and that the cooking is done by the preheated cast iron frying pan.

Therese Plaehn (Emily), David Cromer (Stage Manager), and Derrick Trumbly (George)
in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of 'Our Town' (Jan 2013)     opening 3 min of 1977 Hal Holbrook TV production    Paul Newman as Stage Manager (5 min, beginning of Act 2)   full 1940 movie (Thorton Wilder reportedly was unhappy with this)

Jan 2013 trip to NYC
       Taking advantage of a few snow free days in Jan 2013 I made a brief (three day midweek) trip to NYC, repeating what I had done a year earlier, to see a three shows. My main target was to see Clifford Odets Golden Boy in its brief run at the Belasco. Also got to Picnic, which I had seen a couple of years earlier in Stoneham, and a new production of Annie that had opened just two months earlier.

Golden Boy @ Belasco Theater (Lincoln Center Production), New York City
        I started this series of theater essays in 2006 after seeing Clifford Odets 'Awake and Sing' on a trip to NYC, and I was so impressed with the play and acting that I named the essay after the play. Six years later another Clifford Odets play opens of Broadway to terrific reviews, 'Golden Boy' (1937). Like 'Awake and Sing' this show is produced by Lincoln Center Theater (Bartlett Sher, director) in a limited ran (10 weeks including a month of previews) at the Belasco, where the play first opened (exactly) 75 years ago. Bartlett Sher not only directed Awake and Sing in 2006, he also directed the hugely sucessful South Pacific at Lincoln Center. Roundabout is to do another of Odets play, 'The Big Knife' in spring 2013. Lincoln Center Theater is making a huge financial effort (golden boy has a cast of 19 and five sets) to bring Odets to a new generation of play goes and to establish him as one of the great american playwrights.

        Taking advantage of break in Jan (2013) weather and low post Christmas hotel rates (105/night @ Edison!) I got to NYC for a couple of days and saw 'Golden Boy' and from an excellent seat (5th row center). How hot a ticket was this? On the Wed evening I was there Stephen Sondheim was in the audience too, sitting just three seats away in the row directly behind me.

        Huge cast (19 speaking roles) only a few of whom (as a non-New Yorker) do I know: Tony Shalhoub (Monk), Danny Burstein (South Pacific), Seth Numrich (fighter Golden Boy was in War Horse).

Yvonne Strahovski and Seth Numrich (golden boy, fighter)
in Lincoln Center Theater production of 'Golden Boy' at Belasco Theater Jan 2013

Yvonne Strahovski and Danny Mastrogiorgio (fight manager)

        Terrific reviews from everyone. Terry Teachout (in the WSJ) and John Lahr (in New Yorker) are incandescent.

        "(Lincoln Center has) given it a production of the utmost splendor and compulsion. Watching it is like standing in front of a blowtorch. I can't praise Lincoln Center Theater too strongly for daring to revive a near-forgotten, expensive-to-mount play like "Golden Boy," then giving it a production so unostentatiously true to the script that you'll scarcely spend any time at all being impressed by the excellence of its staging. All you'll see is the play, and you'll go home wondering why nobody ever told you how great "Golden Boy" is." (Teachout)

        "Sher’s production is impeccable. The stage is filled with memorable characterizations, none more exciting than Yvonne Strahovski, in her Broadway début, as Lorna Moon. This distinguished, symphonic production has finally put Odets in the pantheon, where he belongs." (Lahr)

Picnic @ American Airlines Theater (Roundabout), New York City
        In my corner of the theater the chatter before the play began was whether or not this 60 year old play would hold up. This was Jan, Wed matinee, Roundabout subscription crowd, a classic rarely seen old play in previews by William Inge, real NY theater people. I was the only one who had seen it before (that's why I was there). It had been done two or three years earlier in Stoneham, I had gone every week, so I had seen it several times and knew it well. The chatter at intermission (and at the end) was that the play held up fine.

        I thought, however, that some of the acting/casting was weak. The only (semi) big name in the play was Ellen Burstyn, who played the next door neighbor who hires the drifter. The single teacher (boarder) was played by Elizabeth Marvel, apparently (says Als) she has somewhat of good reputation off Broadway or "downtown" as he puts it.  I particularly did not like the mother, who I thought had been played my better by a Boston actress (Dee Nelson) than I was seeing in NYC, and remember telling my seat mate this at intermission. I also thought the (very pretty) girl playing the pretty daughter was not much of an actress, but it's possible this role doesn't have much substance. The rest of the cast I thought was fine.

       Get back a couple of weeks and find in the New Yorker a long review by one of their regular theater reviewers,  Hilton Als. He rambles around, but clearly has problems with the production. He starts with the mother (Flo), 'Mare Winningham seems overwhelmed and uncertain in this role'. And I would add, not pleasing to look at. Yes, I called that one!  Next Als goes after Marvel, saying "although she is often heralded as a great star of the downtown theater scene, I have yet to understand her particular allure". Her friend ( Howard Bevens), who is a "friend boy", she blackmails into marrying her by having sex with him last night. He makes the most lasting impression of the play (just as I found in Boston and as Als notes here) as he resigns himself (nearly wordlessly) to marrying Rosemary. Here he is played by Reed Birney, who is an Obie winner, I think may have been an off Broadway recently written up in the NYT (yup it's him, he played nude downtown). I thought the role of the drifter was very well played by Sebastian Stan. The director here is Sam Gold, who did 'Seminar' (by Theresa Rebeck) recently on Broadway that was a big hit and which I saw with the original cast.

        Nice warm, if conventional set, (reminds me of Proof and many other shows) of two rural backyards adjoined where all the action takes place. (As of yet I have only seen the New Yorker review.)

Sebastian Stan (drifter), Maggie Grace (pretty girl), and Ben Rappaport (rich boyfriend)
in Roundabout production of Picnic, NYC Jan 2013

Reed Birney (as Howard Bevens)

Ellen Burstyn (next door neighbor) Mare Winningham (mother) and Elizabeth Marvel (boarding single teacher)

Ellen Burstyn, Sebastian Stan and Maggie Grace

Mare Winningham and Maggie Grace
(Grace is 29, but plays 18)

Annie @ New York City, New York
        Annie's a strong show, a charmer, I regularly need an Annie fix, and this is a big polished production, but somehow Katie Finneran doesn't work for me as Miss Hanigan at least in her scenes with the children, though she did good in the Easy Street number as part of the trio. Annie is played by "gleamingly confident Lilla Crawford", says Ben Brantly of NYT.

        Maybe one reason I didn't warm strongly to this production was I didn't have a very good seat. This makes a bid difference, I am used to sitting close. This sinks home when I look at the picture of Crawford with Finneran, I have no visual memory of this level of detail. When I was in NYC in Jan for a few days in 2013, I had little date flexibility, I wanted to see Annie, and the show was quite new (2 months) opening to fair reviews.

Lilla Crawford as Annie with Sandy
Broadway revival of Annie (Jan 2013)

Lilla Crawford and  Katie Finneran

Honk, the musical @ Stoneham Theater, Stoneham MA
        Nicely done by the middle school students.

Jane Eyre, the Musical @ Stoneham Theater, Stoneham MA
        At the end of Jane Eyre a familar face turned to me and said "extraordinary" and indeed it was. This was a winter performance by the HS kids of a musical new to me, in fact, of which I had never heard. One of the pleasures of going to see the kids is to spot talent, and it was there in the lead couple of this show: Sarah Smith (Jane Eyre), senior from Winchester and Nick Preziosi, both new to me.

        This show, music and lyrics by Paul Gordon and book by John Caird, opened on Broadway in 2000 and had a pretty good run (eight months). The number of songs in the show is quite extraordinary: I count 31 in the Stoneham playbill and 39 in the Wikipedia list.

33 Variations @ Lyric Stage, Boston MA
        I liked this play, it was a blend of modern characters mixed with famous historical figures, in this case Beethoven, jumping back and forth in time. When was the last time your saw Beethoven on stage? Lyric did a play like this a couple of years ago where the figures were an early female scientist and Voltaire. It's a 'magic of live theater' piece sort of piece.

        '33 Variations' refers to Beethoven's longest (?) piano work for solo piano, where over several years he wrote 33 variations on a waltz composed by his music publisher, Diabelli, who had asked him and many other composers for just one variation each. Paula Plum is a musicologist who goes to Germany to study Beethoven's sketch notebooks to try and figure out why he was so fascinated by this (seemingly) simple waltz. Because this is a play she is so driven to figure this out that she goes to Germany to work even though she has Lou Gerick's disease and during the play gets more and more disabled, going from normal, to a wheelchair, to death. Written about five years ago by Moises Kaufman. it had a limited run in 2009 on Broadway with Jane Fonda in the Paula Plum role.

        A little weakly written in some ways (daughter and her boyfriend/nurse), but a good core. Paula Plum at the center gives a strong performance with a wide range. James Andreassi (new to me) as Beethoven has a wild tortured manner (very believable I thought, though some critics didn't like him) and has a wonderful virtuoso 2 or 3 minutes 'explaining' second-by-second changes in a variation being played live by the excellent pianist Catherine Stornetta in the background. She plays variations on and off during the play, sometimes visible, sometimes not. Nice simple clean set (by Cristina Todesco), costumes (by Charles Schoonmaker), and Lyric artistic director, Spiro Veloudos, directed.

 James Andreassi as Beethoven and Paula Plum as Dr. Katherine Brandt
in Lyric Stage production of 33 Variations (Feb 2013)

excellent pianist Catherine Stornetta and James Andreassi as Beethoven as he 'explains' what's being played

Victor L. Shopov as Anton Schindler and Will McGarrahan as Anton Diabelli

At the end everyone in their best finery does a minuet with Beethoven looking on

Distant Music @ Stoneham Theater, Stoneham MA
        Weylin Symes like to support local plays and local playwrights. He did the Porch a few seasons back, and I attended a reading of new two character play by another playwright at Stoneham. Weylin says in his playbill introduction that he was excited when he stumbled upon Distant Music set in a bar in Cambridge by a local playwright, James McLindon. Unfortunately the bio of the playwright is missing from the playbill, so I know nothing about him.

        I did, however, like this play a lot. Three characters, all nominal Catholics, meet over two days in an Irish bar in Cambridge during a heavy snow storm. Beautifully detailed warm Irish bar set by Jenna McFarland Lord with several classic neon signs (for Irish stout) and all during the play through the window snow is falling.

        The three characters are youngish Irish bar keep, 10 years in US from Ireland and considering going back played by Michael Ryan Buckley. A middle aged law professor up for a judgeship, but uncertain he knows how to decide cases is played by Thomas Rhett Kee. His long time college female friend, and potential romantic interest though a nun (sans-habit), is played by Sarah Newhouse. The dialog is swirling discussion of religion and the catholic church, small town life in Ireland and what's its like to be an immigrant, and the developing love story about whether two long time, now middle age, friends will become lovers if she is fired as a nun. The law professor's cynicism about the law is touched on, but not fully developed.

        Michael Buckley with a strong Irish accent and wild roguish charm keeps the play centered and moving along. He does a wonderful job. I don't recognize him, but his bio says he was in Stoneham's My Fair Lady. He is also involved in teaching the Stoneham kids, and he grew up in Lynnfield. Thomas Kee is also unknown to me. He was in a couple of Stoneham plays a few years ago but this was before my time. His bio includes three TV soap operas. I remember Sarah Newhouse very well. She was boarding school teacher in Picnic at Stoneham and had the big dramatic scene where she begs her boyfriend to marry her. (I think I have a picture of her in that scene.)

 Michael Buckley as the Irish barkeep
in Stoneham's production of James McLindon's Distant Music (Feb 2013)

Sarah Newhouse and Michael Ryan Buckley

Technical plays
        In March 2013 the Boston area was blessed by two excellent technical plays running concurrently. First open was Operation Epsilon at the Central Square Theater for a six week run. This play is about the ten German atomic scientists that were rounded up as WWII came to a close and held in an English country house that was bugged. During the time they here held we dropped an atomic bomb on Japan and the discussion between them when that happened was recorded. The second play, Proof, is fiction and quasi-technical, but still three of four characters in the play are mathematicians!

Operational Epison @ Central Square Theater, Cambridge, MA
        As the end of WWII just as Hitler died and the German were giving up the Allies sent special teams racing into German to capture all the top German scientists thought to be working on an atomic bomb. They were held together in comfortable isolation in an English country house that was bugged. During the time they there we dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. This totally surprised and shocked the Germans who prior to this thought they were leading the world in uranium research and had figured that an atomic bomb was 15-20 years away because several tons of U235 was required. The amount of uranium needed for a bomb was based on a calculation by Werner Heisenberg, of Heisenberg uncertainty fame, who led the German bomb effort.

        For a small theater this is a very large cast, 11 of Boston's best actors. The lead charcter is Werner Heisenberg, who had developed the first formulation of quantum mechanics when he was 25 and was the winner of the Noble prize at 31. As the war begins, Heisenberg is in his early 40s. Other leading characters are two other noble prize winners, Hahn, who had discovered fission in late 1938, and LaRue who was a generation older and had won the noble prize during WWI for x-ray studies of elements. He was the only one of the group had not done nuclear research, and during the play he kept asking why he was being held. It come out at the end of the play that he was rounded up because the Allies want to support him to reestablish German physics.

Will Lyman as Otto Hahm (left) and Diego Arciniegas as Werner Heisenberg (right)
with Kendall Hodder, Dan Whelton, and John Kooi
Nora Theatre's production at Central Square Theater (March 2013)
(Photo credit: A.R. Sinclair Photography)

Ken Baltin, Kendall Hodder, Will Lyman, Dan Whelton, and John Kooi in Nora Theatre's "Operation Epsilon.''
(Photo credit: A.R. Sinclair Photography)

Proof @ Merrimack Repertory Theater, Lowell MA
        Very well written play (2001 winner of Pulitzer Prize) and a strong cast in Merrimack Repertory production of Proof by David Auburn. This play had a long run on Broadway a few years ago where I saw it 2 1/2 times, and I have seen another production too (somewhere). I saw this production three times.

        The whole cast here is wonderful and the young daughter (Keira Keeley) in a difficult role (she fears she may be like her father and will go crazy) is terrific (cheers at curtain). Megan Byrne, who was in the play at Merrimack last year about the WWII solder on leave in NYC, is the older sister. Colby Chambers, former student of the professor, says in his bio he trained at Julliard. Michael Permberton, as the professor, is spot on. Three of the four characters of this play are mathematicians. How can anyone not like that! (In a parking garage after the show I turned the corner and for an instant found myself face to face with Colby Chambers just had time to say 'great job' as he walked past.)

        I did a little research on Keira Keeley, who gives an outstanding performance here, and son of a gun, I have seen her before, in NYC in a role I remember well. Keira Keeley was Laura the crippled daughter in the Tennessee Williams play, 'The Glass Menagerie' with Judith Ivey in 2010 at Roundabout on 46th st deep underground. This production and Judith Ivey got a terrific review from Isherwood of NYT. "Ms. Keeley exudes the awkwardness of a newborn foal, her dark eyes wincing away from her mother’s pleas and exhortations, or the beaming inquisitiveness of the gentleman caller." She was in the original Long Wharf Theater production a year earlier. No great beauty, but someone to watch.

Colby Chambers and Keira Keeley
in Merrimack Theatre production of Proof (Mar 2013)

Michael Pemberton and Keira Keeley

Keira Keeley and Colby Chambers                                                  Megan Byrne (plays older sister)

 Keira Keeley, Patch Darragh, Judith Ivey and Michael Mosley in “The Glass Menagerie”
at the Laura Pels Theater, March 2010

        Reviewer of the Nasua Telegraph was blown away by Keira Keeley and this production.

        “Proof” at Merrimack Repertory Theatre is superbly acted and flawlessly directed. This production is distinguished by masterful handling of fabulous material, and overall makes for one of the best theater experiences I’ve yet had. Please understand it was almost painful to write the above sentences. I dislike, and rarely write, reviews that gush.
        To start with the obvious, Keira Keeley is nothing short of magnificent as Catherine, the mathematician’s brilliant and sardonic daughter. This role is the heart of “Proof,” and the actress must succeed on several levels.

        She must be convincing as a math geek, a loving daughter and a young woman of incisive perception, yet fragile enough where depression and serious mental illness seem real possibilities. She must convey the pain of sacrificing her prime college years to care for a father whose mind had descended darkly from brilliance to the deepest psychosis. As Catherine falls for her father’s former student, the actress portraying her must somehow balance the social awkwardness of a sheltered brainiac with the sexuality of an attractive woman entering her prime.

        Keeley excels at all of these traits to the extent one wonders if, when Auburn created Catherine, he somehow presciently had Keeley’s Catherine in mind. She delivers one of the best performances I’ve witnessed in live theater.

Merrimack video with some scenes from play

        On the well written, detailed 'Hub Review' blog poster Thomas Garvey says, "Keira Keeley seems to heartbreakingly suggest Catherine's instability without any apparent technique at all, and confidently turns on several unlikely emotional dimes without ever missing a beat; it's almost a perfect performance."

Boston Ballet company class @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA
        A perk of ten years of continuous donation to BB is once a year an invite to see the company in class. The 2013 invite was to see the company class in their Back Bay studios on a day in Feb, but it turned out this was also the day of one of the big winter of 12/13 snowstorms in Boston. The class invite below was offered as a substitute, but this is during the run of Sleeping Beauty, so it is in the theater (1:00 matinee performance that day), and viewing from distant theater seats is not nearly as much fun as viewing from a single row of seats along the mirror of a studio where the visceral impact of world class dancers is immediate.

        Nevertheless the class, which was taught by artistic director Mikko Nissinen who still has a dancer's flexibility and style, was wonderful. Big group attended, maybe 60 people, with breakfast seating downstairs. The new BB head of donors came up to me, and it was an old friend from class.

from invite email, great photo

Boston Ballet Sleeping Beauty @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA
        A huge costumed event, beautifully danced, but it lacked real excitment. Partly I think the reason is that this production is more pagaent than dancing. Nearly three hours long, the first three acts plot along with exposition, and mine, and bows from armies of (overly) costumed dancers and various supernumeries, with here and there a dance or two interspersed. For all that the plotting is rather sparse, the falling asleep and awakening not fleshed out, though the travels of the prince traveling to the castle is nicely done.

        The schedules leads were replace by Ashley Ellis, a solist new to the company (2011) who I had not seen before and Nelson Madrigal, who must be getting up in age, but is still clean and sharp in his dancing and has the dramatic skills to carry off this lead role.

        In 2009 the chief dance critic of the NYT, Alastair Macaulay, lavishly praised the BB production because it was the Sleeping Beauty of his youth, which he thinks is the best. It is the 1977 Ninette de Valois Royal Ballet version that the Royal Ballet abandoned years ago. In fact Boston's Sleeping Beauty sets and costumes were actually purchased from the Royal Ballet in 1992, which explains all the Royal pomp and long wigs. As Macaulay notes in his review, four years ago two of the BB principals he saw in Sleeping Beauty were Kuranaga and Madrigal.

        Iris Fanger says this about the 2013 principals:

        "Jeffrey Cirio at age 21 is now the reigning male dancer of the company. Impressive in the technical demands of Prince Desiree, he never fails to land in a turned-out fifth position, no matter how high he jumps. He is also a skilled actor, adding a level of realism to the love story. He is well matched with Kuranaga who exuded the amazed excitement of a young girl reveling at her coming of age.

        At Saturday’s matinee, soloist Ashley Ellis made her debut as Princess Aurora, partnered by Nelson Madrigal. Ellis was generally well up to the many solos and pas de deux of the role, and Madrigal made easy work of the high leaps and linked turns, but the pair shares little stage chemistry."

Jeffrey Cirio as Prince Desiree and Misa Kuranaga as Aurora (opening night cast)
in Boston Ballet production of Sleepting Beauty (April 2013)

Kathleen Breen Combes and Joseph Gatti in Bluebird pas de deux

Erica Cornejo as evil fairy

from BB 2009 Sleeting Beauty, James Whiteside in Bluebird showing showing his excellent technique
(alas, Whiteside left BB at end of 2012 season to join ABT)

Master Class @ New Rep, Watertown MA
        Amelia Broome is brilliant as Marie Callas in the 1995 play, Master Class by Terrence McNally. It ran on Broadway in 2011 (with Tyne Daly) and was on my list of plays I was checking out, but I think it had yet to open. A tour de force for a strong actress plus a few snippets (2-3 min) of singing by the students Erica Spyres, Lindsay Conrad, and Darren T. Anderson, who as the Globe reviewer notes all "sing beautifully". A shame since Amelia Broome is a very good singer who I remember well from Kiss Me Kate from a couple of years back at the Lyric. (I read that Broome and Spyres played mother and daughter in Light in the Piazza, which I missed.)

        This play must be a terror to memorize and set. It's 2.5 hr and it must be 75% monologue by Callas. And there is little story flow to the monologue as it is crazy quilt of boasting, remembrances, and advice snippets. As the NYT reviewer said, dramatically it's not much of a play, but it's a thing of beauty to see a difficult role like this beautifully played as it was last night by Boston actress (& theater prof at Emerson) Amelia Broome. Amelia Broome for the whole play is the haughty diva.

Erica Spyres as (student) Sophie and Amelia Broome as Maria Callas
in Terrence McNally’s “Master Class” production at New Rep (4/13)

Side by Side by Sondheim @ Arlington Friends of Drama, Arlington MA
        Nicely sung and by six talented amateur performers (below) with narration by two old timers and accomplied by two excellent pianists onstage, all the numbers arranged for two pianos. While I didn't remember them during the performance, I find two are returnees from my favorite Arlington show, 'She Loves Me' in 2010. Ann McCoy as Ilona was teamed with Dan Robone (tall, bald and he can sing quite high). Dan Rabone was also a standout in last season 'Oliver' as Fagin. An interesting talk back session introduced the support staff.

        In trying to figure out which of the men in the picture was which, a search for 'Robert Orzalli ' with Bing pulled up the picture below from the Brandeis student newpaper of 2009. Orzalli's bio says he recently graduated from Brandeis. Clearly the guy on the left in the Brandeis group is the same as the guy on the left at Arlington. The excellent pianists were Karin Denison, she is music director for Longwood Players in Cambridge, and Nate Newton.

Ann McCoy, Robert Orzalli, Jocelyn Hesse, Dan Rabone, David Warnock, and Kathy Dalton

Ann McCoy and Dan Rabone as Ilona and Kodaly in Arlington's 'She Loves Me' (2010)

Robert Orzalli (left) performing at Brandeis in 2009

Ryan Landry's 'M' at Calderwood Pavilion, Boston MA
        What can you say, give a wild creative guy who had been doing parodies for decades in the basement of gay bars a big budget and big stage, probably for the first time, and this is what you get, an off the wall 'play' like no one has ever seen before. Entertaining, yes, a smile now and then, yes, (very) clever, yes, a parody, not really, does it amount to anything, well not much except it is an a wild imaginative ride, Boston's fringe comedy/parody man.

        Fantastic collection of set pieces, many requiring a lot of work like collections 5 ft high photographs on wheels. Excellent cast, some of whom I expect have long worked with Landry, like xxx. The cast including one of Boston's best actresses, Karen McDonald (I read she is channeling Peter Laury from the 1931 movie), who has little to do until she unleashes a serious tirade at the end, which I was unable to follow. Director is from Catlin from Stoneham. Landry appears briefly in a few small parts, but doesn't show at the curtin call. 'M' was a 1931 German movie, either silent or early sound, about serial child murders with Peter Laury.

Ryan Landry's 'M'
Huntington/Calderwood production April 2013

Thoroughly Modern Millie @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        Stoneham's Thoroughly Modern Millie is a fantastic show. A stylish, polished production with a terrific singing, dancing and comedic cast of 20 working as a unit for whom great credit has to go to Llyse Robbins, director and choreographer. I saw it five times, each time from the first row. Two and half hours of pure joy. At the last performance during the call Andrew Giordano quietly handed Ephie Aardema a single rose.

        Stoneham's big (read high budget) musical of the season with a cast of 20 (!) and five piece orchestra is Thoroughly Modern Millie. This is a tap dancing show and some of the cast of 42nd Street from a couple of years ago are back. This includes the wonderful lead of 42nd Street Ephie Aardema, who is again the star (Millie). Show is selling out, but it looks like I will get to see it five times from 1st row. This is a zany farce/comedy about 'white slavery' (not too far removed from a five door farce) jam packed with musical numbers, I count 24 in the program. Spicing up the original music, much of it very good, is a high speed patter song using a tune ripped off from Gilbert and Sullivan, Mammy sung mostly in Chinese with subtitles, and a few lines from 'Sweet Mystery of Love', which produces one of the biggest laughs of the show.

        The young quartet of principals includes Noah Zachary paired with Aardema, and Andrew Giordano as Millie's boss paired with Millie's friend Stephanie Grenade. All four are terrific singers and can dance too, Aardema is a gold medal winning tap dancer. A real standout is Andrew Giordano, trained at Boston Conservatory, but apparently now out of NY. He has been on Broadway (Le Mis and South Pacific) and in a lot of big shows. He's tall and good looking with a powerful voice and shows great comic ability in the wonderful (Gilbert and Sullivan) patter song with Aardema and the crazy 'Sweet Mystery of Love' song and dance duet with Stephane Granade. The dancing ensemble are all good dancers and they can sing too, sometimes it's flat out high energy tap, other times soft shoe, still other times advancing the plot and supporting the principals (for example the girls sitting tapping typists), and still other times it's a nicely choreographed formal slow dance in the background.

        The young principals are supported by two old timers and local favorites, Kathy St. George, Stoneham's own diva, and Robert Saoud, here with playing Mrs Meers with a pitch perfect comic characterization, and he can put over a song too. But this show is all about big musical numbers so of equal importance is the dancing ensemble, here five women and five men, some I recognize from 42nd Street including Dierde Burke, who I first saw at Stoneham Theater in a student production of 42nd Street and has now just graduated with a BS degree in biology. Bernie Baldassaro, who only a couple of years ago was in the Stoneham student production of '13' dancing up a storm, here is a tap dancing member of the men's ensemble. Who knew he was a tap dancer?  Zoey Michaels, now 18 and a graduating Stoneham senior off to study musical theater in college, has a small part.

        There is still more in the cast with two chinese boys and fat head typist, who it turns out can also tap dance. All together a splendid cast of 20: singing, dancing and comedy, in a splendid production directed (again) by Ilyse Robbins. Jim Rice, an excellent pianist who often works with Kathy St. George, leads the orchestra. Colorful 20's costumes, a huge number most cast members have several different outfits, by Paula Peasley-Ninestein and art deco flavored set plus (custom made?) typing desks by Crystal Tiala.

        Kudos too to the orchestra of six led by Jim Rice, which with one trumpet and one trombone can when needed produce a big broadway sound. Kudos too to the lighting by Jeff Adelberg whose many quick light changes greatly aids the comedy. For example, as Andrew Giordano first spots Stephane Granade, the stage suddenly dims, he is bathed in spot light, his face beams and he belts out "Sweet mystery of love at last I've found you", followed by a huge laugh.

Andrew Giordano as Mr. Trevor Graydon and Ephie Aardema as Millie Dillmount
in Stoneham's production of Thoroughly Modern Millie, April 2013

Stephanie Grenade as Miss Dorothy Brown and Andrew Giordano as Mr. Trevor Graydon                    Kathy St. George as Muzzy Van Hossmere with men's ensemble

whole cast at curtain

Ephie Aardema                                                               Robert Saoud as Mrs. Meers

Kathy St. George as world's oldest young ophan

Cast includes two who I have seen many times in Young Company performances
Zoey Michaels, who I first saw in 8th grade singing Adele's Lament from Guys and Dolls,
is now 18, senior at Stoneham HS, and next year will study musical theater at college.
Bernie Baldassaro, one of male tap dancers, was a couple of years ago dancing up a storm in '13'.

Sara Coombs (?), Ephie Aardema, and Dierdre Burke

Stoneham's Thoroughly Modern Mille cast backstage
It is sort of surprising how the star, Ephie Aardema, doesn't have more presence off stage. Looking at this cast photo
no one would ever guess the girl in red (right) was the star who has lots of presence on stage.
(what they are holding up I don't know)

        Show got terrific review at Boston Globe:

        "Director and choreographer Ilyse Robbins knows the focus needs to be on the singing and dancing, and, wow, does her company deliver. From the opening number to the rousing finale, this cast of 20 performs as a unit, with crisp precision and seemingly heartfelt enthusiasm. Robbins has gathered some extraordinary talent for this production, starting with Aardema and including the entire tap-dancing ensemble. Aardema has powerful pipes but never overdoes it, setting the tone and tempo for Act 1 with the opening number, “Not for the Life of Me,” and for the show’s second half with “Forget About the Boy” at the top of Act 2.

        Andrew Giordano is hilarious as Mr. Trevor Graydon, Millie’s meticulously demanding boss, who teams up with Granade’s wide-eyed Miss Dorothy for a gloriously operatic “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life” that is as funny as it is musically thrilling. And while Mrs. Meers is written as a ridiculously offensive Asian stereotype, Saoud, comically, turns the slur into just another costume to hide behind. All of these elements, plus the ability of Robbins and musical director Jim Rice to keep the action moving at just the right swift pace, make this “Millie” thoroughly enjoyable." (Terry Byrne, Boston Globe)

Ephie Aardema
        Aardema grew up in Florida has not taken the college route. Saw an interview with her in 2010 when she was touring with Sound of Music as the oldest daugher, and she said she was 19, that made her 20 for Stoneham's 42nd street and 22 now. She is an alternate cast of the two person show Daddy Long Legs, which I saw, and which wastes her dance talent. Her bio shows she was a gold medal winner in tap in a German competition. When starting out, she must have spent a summer in ME with four productions in Maine State Music Theatre, which I never heard of. Turns out this is in Brunswick ME, on campus of Bowdoin College 23 miles north of Portland.

Her home page:
        She won't be at Ogunquit because her web site says she will be opening in 42nd street in Pittsburg in two weeks.

Movie footnote (12/1/13)
        The movie of Thoroughly Modern Millie popped up on TV recently. I was surprised to see that a huge amount of the dialog of the musical is lifted verbatim from this 1967 movie. And some of the songs are there too, even 'O Sweet Mystery of Life' (as background). One plot change in the musical, which I think was a big improvement over the movie, is instead of having Jimmy dress up as a girl to go to the hotel to be the new 'orphan', Muzzy is the new ophan, saying, 'I just came from the orphanage', which sets up the huge laugh line: 'What did you do, walk?'.

Ogunquit Millie
       In a month Ogunquit is going to do the same show for four weeks (probably with x10 budget) with Sally Struthers as Mrs. Meers, a role I'm sure she will do well in (nope!). Ogunquit will probably field a larger dance corp, but I will be surprised if they can top the Stoneham production. I'm secretly hoping that Epie Aardema or Andrew Giordano or some of the Stoneham cast might be in the Ogunquit cast too. Probably unlikely, but they would be lucky to get Aardema or Giordano, and the timing is right with exactly one month between closing here and opening there. Ogunquit Millie runs June 12 (Wed) thorugh July 6 (Sat) with no show on Thur July 4th, Ogunquit fireworks (9:00 or 9:15 pm).

GlenGarry Glen Ross @ Merrimack Theater, Lowell MA
        Terrific performance of a pulizer prize winning play by David Mamet. The thrust of this somewhat thin play is Mamet's terrific skewering of florida real estate salesmen and is all sharp dialog and split second timing that requires virtuoso acting to pull off. Excellent production directed by Charles Towers, the Merrimack artistic director. Verteran Boston actor Will LeBow and Todd Licea really shine as the two featured salemen.

Todd Licea (as hotshot salesman, Ricky Roma) and Will LeBow (as down on his luck salesman, Shelley Levene)
in Merimack Theater's production of David Mamet's GlenGarry Glen Ross (May 2013)

David Adkins (office manager) and Will LeBow (older salesman) in opening scene

Merrimack video with some brief scenes from the play featuring Todd Licea

Boston Ballet's Chroma @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA
        Two of Balanchine's classic pieces, Serenade and Ballet Imperial (Symphony in C) not done by the BB much anymore plus a virtuosic herky jerky piece, Chroma, from the Royal Ballet resident choreographer (2006). The Balanchine pieces were beautifully danced. Symphony in C is a big work for 52 dancers with (says the Boston Globe's Thea Singer), the women in glittering white tutus and of course, Serenade, play by only strings, was famously choerographed by Balanchine for his first class of students in USA. The herky jerky style is not my favorite, but every move here was effort to the max and it grew on you. Besides the score with zylophones all over the theater, two right above me, grew on you too. I was there opening night and that is the real dance crowd, and this piece got standing ovation with five or six curtain calls. (Thea Singer's reaction to the new work Chroma was the same as mine, admiring the skill it takes to dance, but seeing it as one note experimentalist work.)

        Here's a great photo of Chroma's Symphony in C. (Couple of years ago Rines, the black guy below, was a skinny kid who when I saw company class looked like he didn't belong, but it looks like he has come along.)

Whitney Jensen with Patrick Yocum, Bradley Schlagheck, and Lawrence Rines
in Balanchine's Symphony in C (May 2013)
(photos by Gene Schiavone)

Jeffry Ciro (see the intensity) in Boston Ballet's Chroma (May 2013)

Recent mailing of BB unrelated to Chroma
(nice picture and test of new MX452 scanner)

        Now here's a nice recent, Boston Ballet (related) picture I stumbled upon. This was a one night performance by the junior company and students that I did not get to.

Boston Ballet's "Next Generation," with Boston Ballet School students on the Opera House stage,
accompanied by the New England Conservatory youth orchestra in the pit
(photo by Rosalie O'Connor)

        Polished hidef video discussing the Next Generation collaboration between BB and Boston Conservatory. Vimeo has 28 Boston Ballet videos, including the 'faces' of the Boston Ballet series.

Boston Ballet's Coppelia @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA
        This is old and very famous ballet that I have never really cared for. The plot is thin and as I remembered not really suited for a large skilled company like the current BB, a better fit to the BB of many decades ago, which was smaller and less skilled, and who I remember dancing it. This is Balanchine's version. For two acts a village maiden, her boyfriend and a bunch of girlfriends romp in the village, and then sneak into the crazy toymaker's house to investigate the full size mechanical ballerina doll he has built. At least in the first act this is one big dance number, plus another huge troupe of folk dancers who stomp around in boots. The 2nd act on a crowed set has very little dancing, mostly acting out the too cutsy doll plot, and it almost put me to sleep. Boyko Dosse does a nice job acting as Dr. Coppelius, and he gets to dance a little too. Thea Singer in her excellent Boston Globe review has a whole paragraph about the subtle, humor and pathos Boyko Dossev brings to the role of Dr. Coppelius.

        Then in the 3rd act a big surprise. The plot was wrapped up at the end of act 2 and with the excuse of a celebration a whole act of just plain dancing begins. The surprise here is that, at least in this production, virtually everyone connected with the Boston Ballet, Boston Ballet 2, and the students from the BB school are involved. Most impressive is a huge number of young girls from the school (all about age 9 to 10), 24 of them all dressed in pink tutus. They are not just onstage for a few minutes, but for more than half the act with many, many set pieces and frames. All the kids beautifully prepared with totally clean execution. And they didn't look scared even thought for most of them this is probably the first time they have been onstage in a big theater.

        Singer says this, "The ballet, which debuted in 1974, draws its first two acts from the 1884 restaging by Marius Petipa and adds an explosive original third act, full of lilting Romanticism and brio." So maybe I never saw this ballet with the big 3rd act before, because Balanchine collaborating with Alexandra Danilova, added the 3rd act.

        A big pas de deux by Franz and Swanhilda closes the ballet. On the opening night I was there it was beautifully danced by Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio. Both are good actors and as the new principal (only 22) his leaps are spectacular, and she is a fabulous technician. Singer had great praise for Nelson Madrical and Kuranaga, who she saw on a different night. (Incredibly Singer doesn't mention the festive atmosphere added to the 3rd act by the dancing of so many students of the school, though Iris Fanger in her review properly singles them out.) Another strange element in this ballet is 'War and Discord' in act 3. A huge troup of bare chested men, led by Lia Cirio (Cirio’s sister) and Lasha Khozashvili, run onto a darkly lit stage doing big synchronized jumps while holding big sticks. Looks like something from Spartacus or some other Soviet style ballet. What this has to do with what is (loosely) a wedding celebration I have no idea. Weird.

                                                   Misa Kuranaga (in blue)                                                 Misa Kuranaga (as Swanhilda) with Boyko Dossev (as Dr. Coppelius)
Boston Ballet's production of Coppelia (May 2013)

Amadeus @ New Rep, Watertown, MA
        As a lover of Mozart I am familiar with the (iconic) Amadeus, mainly from the movie. I did see the the play, once, maybe thirty years ago, a touring production in Boston from a bad seat in the balcony, but the play left no lasting impression.

        This is a play all about ACTING, lots of it with running time of 3 hr (!), a large cast, heavily costumed on an abstract set. Boston Globe reviewer summaries the plot of Amadeus this way: "An enraged Salieri sets out to wage a private war against God, with Mozart as his battleground and immortality at stake", and he then notes "weighty stuff", yup. Did I like it? I really don't know, I know I would not rush back to see it again. It's a wild improbable tale, with long, somewhat tedious monologues by Salieri, and the play goes on an on... with the mumbo jumbo mystical nonsense dominating the last half hour or so. Also the play suffers in comparison with the movie. A lot of the entertaining scenes with Mozart in the movie are here just barely sketched.

        One aspect of the production was a big  disappointment. There was barely any Mozart music played. The few iconic scenes where Salieri recognizes Mozart's genius have Mozart's music playing in the background, but the volume was too low. Maybe this is because Salieri is talking over the music (technical issue), but I would have liked to see the music somehow made more prominent. After all this is the reason I came to the play, it is about Mozart!

        The New Rep does a good job with big pieces like this and this is a terrific piece of work. I am amazed that I can go to Boston theater and see so many new faces. Do they all come in from NY or are there just a lot of local actors who work very little, or not in my orbit. In this large cast the only actor I remember seeing before is Russell Garrett who has worked at Stoneham (in My Fair Lady) and is a local director here playing the relatively small role of the Emperor. A look at the bios indicates these are mostly Boston actors. The play is built around Benjamin Evett (Salieri), who tells the tale and is onstage for most of the three hours. His bio says he was a member of the ART resident company for a decade and was in 50 productions there, who knew! Other principals: Tim Spears (Mozart), McCaela Donovan (Mozart's wife) with support from the mask pair: Michael Kaye and Paula Langton. All are Boston actors. There are many other nicely costumed and heavily made up actors that have relatively little to do.

whole cast of New Rep's production of Amadeus (May 2013)
 Tim Spears (Mozart) left, Benjamin Evett (Salieri) foreground,  McCaela Donovan (Mozart's wife), Russell Garett (Emperor) right in red
and in the back holding masks: Michael Kaye and Paula Langton

 Benjamin Evett (Salieri in sheet music scene)                                                                       Tim Spears (Mozart) with Russell Garrett in red

Mozart on the piano

 Cats @ North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly MA
       I saw 'Cats' at North Shore, first time I've ever seen this show. Talk about acting, 17 dancer/singers playing cats! I was sitting in 1st row in theater in round just feet from the performers, and they all were in character all the time.

       As far as the show goes, it's like the dance equivalent of Les Mis, a no dialogue musical with an impossible to follow 'plot' (unless maybe you know the TS Eliot poem on which it is based). It's entertaining, getting by on flash, dancing, singing and creative theatricality, but as a show I found it to be kind of an overwrought, turgid mess. It's hard to believe this show ran almost 20 years in both London and New York! I remember going up to the box office in NY near the end of its run and it was sold out. I saw maybe 15 cars leave at intermission, so it was not for everyone.

        Excellent large (17 or so) cast here, the hard working unknowns of the theater world, nearly all dancers who all could also sing and act very well. There was a talk back afterward and most of them had danced all their lives, and many also studied singing in college. Most in their 20's, one guy said he was over 40. I asked about rehearsal time and was told two weeks, which seemed impossible for a show with 20 dance numbers, but it turns out nearly all of these performers have done Cats before, some of them in a national tour. There is a short hires video of the show on the North Shore web site.

North Shore Music Theatre's (excellent) production of Cats (Aug 2013)


Summer 2013 shows @ Hackmatack Playhouse, Berwick ME
        I saw all shows four of the 2013 season, one of them (Sound of Music) two or three times. Two big shows this summer: Sound of Music and Les Miserables, both well done. The Hackmatack production of Sound of Music was very, very well cast and performed. All the principals were fine, and the kids were not just local neighborhood kids, these were kids serious about theater and had come to Berwick from all over northern NE. Big cast, great singing chorus of nuns, even if one or two were men. Katie Rodger was Maria and Jeff Seabaugh was Capt Von Trapp. Rodgers has been working with kids at Hackmatack for ten years, and Seabaugh returned at the end of the summer as director of 'Driving Miss Daisy'. The 2nd principal pair were also very good, Stewart Brown, as Max and Jennifer Batchhelder as Elsa. Melissa Manseau as Mother Abbess was both a fine actress and had the powerful voice needed to thrill the audience at the end of Act I with her 'Climb Every Mountain'.

                      Katie Rodger as Maria          Jeff Seabaugh as Capt Von Trapp

        As a show I find Les Miserables lugubrious and tedious with a hard to take and understand melodramatic plot. Sure there are bright spots (Master of the House) and some great music, but I can barely stand this show. Here it was well done with a HUGE cast, and Scott Smith, who played Edna Turnblad last summer in Hairspray. was here the tenor lead Jean Valjean! I saw this show on a matinee on a hot summer day. BIG mistake. Hackmatack has no air-conditioning, so the barn is like an oven in the afternoon on a hot summer day.

        Two smaller shows opened and closed the season. The season opened with a satirical 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'. Well done by a young cast of three or four, but this type of british send up is not my cup of tea. (One reviewer was so NOT entertained by this show, that she left at intermission and reported five cars did too, so I was not alone in barely cracking a smile.) The season ended with 'Driving Miss Daisy', which is a charming little piece. This shows what amateur actors can do. The woman playing Miss Daisy, Tinka Darling, has been acting locally for 40 years, same thing for the actor, Michael Turner, wonderfully cast as the black chauffeur. His bio showed he had been working behind scenes at Hackmatack for seven years (doing lighting). Both of them and the third cast member (Daisy's son, Jay Rogers) all did a fine job. Very enjoyable evening of theater.

Seminar @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        Stoneham opened the 2013-14 season with Seminar, which I had seen on Broadway a couple of years earlier. The basic plot is four young writers who know each other hire a senior editor to come in weekly to help them with their writing and careers. I liked this play on Broadway, but not so much here, though much of the acting and production-set were nicely done.

        The weakness in this production was the casting of Christopher Tarjan, who I gather is more of a director. Christopher Tarjan is not the a joy to look at, and this was apparently a major reason he was cast, the director wanted the senior writer to be unkempt and gruff. Upon reflection it is now clear (to me) the reason this play did so well in NY with the critics and audience (6+ months run) was that the senior writer was played by someone with star power (Alan Rickman), someone who could overawe the young writers and the audience. It's really the heart of the play, that's what this play needs to succeed, and it didn't get it in Stoneham.

Liz Hayes, Christopher Tarjan, Jordan Ahnquist, Jesse Hinson
Stoneham Theatre production of Seminar (Sept 2013)

Liz Hayes, Jordan Ahnquist

Jordan Ahnquist, Sophorl Ngin

La Cage aux Folle @ North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly MA
        A first rate production of La Cage at North Shore, great costumes, fantastic dancers, and strong principals. I saw the show twice. First time on opening night I thought the two leads, George and Albin, were a little weak, but on second viewing a week later they seems to have settled into their roles, which is not surprising given the rehersal process for the show (from talkback) was only ten days. The guy playing the maid/butler was very funny. When I checked the reviews, several reviews savaged the two leads, saying Charles Shaughnessy (from Nanny) can't sing (in truth he is not much of a singer), and I have see the role of Albin, played by quirky Jonathan Hammond, much better played and sung.

        What really makes this production is the skill (and beautiful costumes) of the dancing chorus. These guys (with one? girl) are fantastic dancers and get lots of chances to show their stuff. There is one sequence with kicks sky high (well above heads) started by one guy then two, three, etc all together. Here what what one reviewer had to say about them.

        La Cage Aux Folles really springs to life, though, whenever the fantastic singing and dancing Cagelles are on stage. Leaping, tumbling, high-kicking, and can-can-ing their way into death-defying splits, these 10 men (and women?) are Red Bull dosed with a turbo-shot of Rockstar. The title number is jaw-droppingly exhilarating. Like Ginger Rogers and Cyd Charisse, these Cagelles do everything Fred Astaire (and Gene Kelly and Jerome Robbins and Michael Kidd) did except backwards and in heels.

Charles Shaughnessy and Jonathan Hammond
in North Shore's production of LaCage (Sept 2013)

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
         Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is the second production of the season at Stoneham. Stoneham specializes in this type of dark mystery play and almost every season it does one. (Weylin apparently loves them, however, he did not direct this one.) I didn't find this classic story very interesting, it's too fantastical for my tastes. It is based on a novella by Robert Louis Stevenson adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher. And has one reviewer noted Hatcher apparently is responsible for adding to the script a love interest for the evil Hyde, which as written is just totally unbelievable. This production, however, is well cast and acted (ACTING!). The lead (Dr. Jekyll) is played by Benjamin Evett, who was impressive as Salieri in the New Rep's Amadeus a few months earlier. Reviews were positive.

Benjamin Evett (Dr. Hyde) and Dale Place
in Stoneham's production of Jekyll and Hyde (Oct 2013)

       Benjamin Evett                                                                         Esme Allen and Alexandeer Platt

Miracle on 34th Street @ Stoneham Theater, Stoneham MA
        There's a limited repertoire of Christmas shows and Stoneham is again doing Miracle on 34th Street. Their secret weapon is Bill Gardiner, who played Kris Kringle a few years ago and is doing him again. One review called him a wonderful naturalistic actor, and I agree, this role fits him like a glove, he's the warm cuddly core to the show. I stumbled on an actors web site, and his credits there indicate that aside from his teaching acting at BU, he does about one show a year (mostly at Stoneham) for the last six years. The beard and fat are real, so Gardiner in real life probably does look a lot like Santa Claus.

        Very large cast of 16 adults and 4 kids. While Bill Gardiner and a few others play naturalistically, the cartoon like plot of this show is kept moving along by over the top chararizations done by some of Boston's better character actors. The featured little girl, Susan Walker, is played very well this year by Sydney Newcomb from Stoneham. Scott Giangrande, who works 'by day' in hi-tech, plays Mr. Macy very well. One month run and selling very well.

Bill Gardiner and Donna Sorbello
in Stoneham Theater's production of Miracle on 34th Street (Dec 2013)

Harry McEnerny and Bill Gardiner

Arthur Waldstein (Mr Gimbel), Bill Gardiner, and Scott Giangrande (Mr. Macy)

Bill Gardiner and Talya Hamberg                    Marianna Bassham (Doris Walker)                   Jesse Hinson (Fred Gailey)

Sydney Newcomb, Marianna Bassham and Jesse Hinson at finale

        A somewhat odd choice for Fred Gailey, the lawyer featured in the 2nd act and pursuer of Doris Walker, is Jesse Hinson. In Seminar at Stoneham earlier this season he played a spaced out writer, and here he is playing spaced out again, a spaced out lawyer. He never just walks across the stage, he flits and bounces in a most odd, but rather amusing way. (It fits with the over the top acting required to pull this show off.) He seems to have little to no chemistry with Marianna Bassham, whom he pursues for most of the play, although much of this is probably in the script. I noticed another reviewer noted this too, so I was dumfounded when I read that Hinson and Marianna Bassham, one of Boston's better actresses, are husband and wife. When I read their bios, I see that both of them are out of Brandeis with MFAs, and a little googling shows they just got married in 2013. (update --- I think there has been a subtle change here. On repeat viewing I notice that on their 2nd kiss, she now enthusiastically kisses him back, which on opening night I don't remember.)

Stoneham Theater 2013 Christmas card (scan)

Boston Ballet's (new) Nutcracker @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA
        I missed the Boston Ballet's new production of the Nutcracker last year. It is rare that I don't see their Nutcracker, and I missed their first production of the 2013-14 season too, La Bayadère, due to flue/nasty cold I had during the whole run, but I got to see the new production in its second year.

        Fantastic performance led by the best principals in the company: Jeffrey Cirio and Misa Kuranaga, just beautiful crisp clean world class dancing by them and by the whole company. This was the opening night cast. Jeffry sister Lia Cirio was glowing as the lead in the Waltz of the Flowers, and I saw two new principals as the Snow king and queen: Eris Nezha, Albania and Petra Conti, Italy. She seemed to lack in stage presence. The costumes are good and the totally new production sets aren't bad, but the Christmas tree effect doesn't come off as well as it should. A different aerial effect is included. The mouse choregraph is all new, but no one I think can really make any choreographic sense of a mouse fight.

        All the images below, except for the first, I captured (and cropped) from 1 min Boston Ballet promo HD video, and it shows the first night cast, which I saw later in the run.

Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio in Boston Ballet Nutcracker (Dec 2013)

Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio in motion

new sets (Act I snow scene)

new sets (Act II)


My Boston traffic adventure getting to the Nutcracker
        My visit into Boston to see Nutcracker was a thur evening about two weeks before Christmans. When I go to the theater in downtown Boston, I always park in the Boston Common garage, a huge parking garage under Boston Common, by far the largest parking garage in the city. Driving time there is 30-35 mins on a good day, but this being two weeks before Christmas I left home an hour and 15 min before the performance start. I run into three huge traffic jams just getting to Boston: 20 min to reach and get off my exit on Rt 93, a jam on the highway in East Cambridge where I have never seen a jam before (a backup all the way from the Science Museum), and more slow going over the Longfellow bridge from Cambridge into Boston.

        I get off the bridge finally into Boston to make the short run to the garage down Charles St only to find the road closed with police and barricades! (god knows why) So I am shunted away and I take the long way around to the Common parking garage. Even before I get to the garage I know I have missed the opening. But the real kick in the pants is that there is a guard and a barricade at the entrance to the garage saying it is full, and I am waved off. Well I have no backup plan for this (if I had been thinking I might have turned left where I know of another garage, but it is normally close to full even without Christmas), and I am now so pissed and late and with no idea where to park that I give up and decide to drive home, even though I have paid for an excellent, expensive 2nd row orchestra center seat on the aisle!

        My route home takes me near Government Center where I know there is another big garage, and even though this is far from the theater and I am super late, it is walkable. As I turn down the street toward the garage, I see an open parking meter that I can just drive into, this will save a few minutes so I quickly park and hustle the 10-15 min to theater (cold, temp is about 20F). Of course I am hugely late (about the middle of 1st act) and there is a seating hold, but the theater staff does a good job and me and just a handful of other super lates are guided to our seat with flashlights (first time ever) during a transition scene.

        Was worth the hassle, I find the best principals in the company are the dancing that night, and the dancing by them and the whole company is fantastic, world class. After the performance, I hike back through the cold to my car, and I am pleased when I turn the corner see my car is still there, less pleased though resigned, when I see that even though I am parked at a parking meter I have a parking ticket. A fitting ending for my adventure. I now see the sign mumble something about permits required during day and god know if the parking meters need to be used in the evening. Well what's another $50 to $100 I figure to see the performance (my seat cost was $139), but when I get home I am pleasantly surprised. The Boston Parking ticket is for only $25. I didn't know they went that low! (Paying my ticket I find the $25 was for unpaid meter.)

(unrelated to Nutcracker, but Boston Ballet has this nice Swan Lake image on its opening page, Dec 2013)

Legally Bonde @ Arlington Friends of Drama, Arlington MA
        I had been looking forward to this show and Arlington did not disappoint, an excellent production. I saw it three times and enjoyed it every time. This has been one of my favorite shows (music & lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, book by Heather Hach) since I first saw it when new on Broadway with Laura Bell Bundy (several times) in 2007-8. This is the 4th production of the show I have seen (5th if you count Stoneham students, which unfortunately with no pictures I now don't remember well): Broadway a few years ago and in 2011 both Ogunquit (Becky Gulsvig and original prof Callahan) and North Shore did very good productions. And, of course, this is one of the few Broadway shows to ever have been recorded in full on its home stage (before a crowd of invited screaming teens) with original cast and shown on TV.

        While this show has a large cast, the show depends critically on having a strong lead (Elle Woods) who is onstage nearly the whole show and is featured in well over half the songs in the show, and Arlington found one in Cai Radleigh, whose bio says she is from NY.

Shannon Cheong (Emmet) and Cai Radleigh (Elle) in Arlington Friends of Drama production of Legally Blonde, Dec 2013

Shannon Cheong (as Emmet)
(far left and right are the two identical twins, three girls in white are the Greek Chorus)

Paulette - Kimberly Frances Barrett
Warner - Steven Atwater

(left) Arlington rehersal photo, (probably) Cai Radleigh front, Bruce Whear (prof Callahan) seated center
(right) Cai Radleigh in Putney County 25th Anniversery Spelling Bee, Playhouse in Long Island NY

        Really admire Arlington for being able to put on big shows like this, and Legally Blonde is a BIG show with a cast of 23 + 2 dogs + 4-5 musicians. For some reason I don't understand, maybe too close to Christmas, the attendance for this terrific production was not good on the first two Sun matinees (less than half full), but the last Sun performance was nearly full. It appears that they don't have a big local company of actors to draw on, mostly they recruit a new cast for each show, most playbill bios say this is first time at Arlington. I was at a talk back session, and they explained they advertise on web sites that actors frequent. Cai Radleigh's bio says she is from NY, her only online presence is a show she did at a playhouse on Long Island. One of the guys says he came back from CA to stay with a friend to do this show. How this is handled financially, both for the performers and the theater, I don't know. They said the rehearsals for this show started in Sept followed by 9 performances scheduled over three weekends in Dec. That's Ok for local folks, but how can that work for someone like Cai Radleigh? Is she coming up from NY for rehearsals and each week for performances, where does she stay? I wished I had asked this question in the talk back.

        Cai Radleigh is a standout in this show, really nice looking, good singer, dances well and has wonderful stage presence. Her bio lists five shows she has been in (including Legally Blonde, but she played Brooke and Penny in Hairspray), but no academic credits, and her only online presence is a role in Spell Bee at a theater in Long Island. If I had to guess, this is a role in a lifetime for her (star, fits her like a glove) and she sought it out and maybe sacrificed to do it.

        A little googling turned up several Youtube videos of Cai Radleigh (a brunette!) singing in Buffulo NY, where she is identified as 2010 graduate of Univ of Buffolo. [] []
        Other strong leads here are Kimberly Frances Barrett (as Paulette), Bruce Whear from Mablehead where he had done local theater for 40 years (as Callahan) and really funny in clever reversal Kurt Fusaris from Framingham (as Kyle) who shows off his scrawny legs. The cast is almost uniformly fine and includes two identical twins (Alexis Nodiff and Tiffany Carnuccio). And the dance team here includes the difficult jump rope number! In talk back they said they started rehearsing this back in Sept. The North Shore production, with their usual short two week rehearsal schedule, replaced the rope jumping with some much easier rope play. And finally the tiny dog 'bruiser' (from Arlington), who barely moves as he is carried about, and who I got to pat in the talkback.

Young Company winter festival (2014) @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
Winesburg, Ohio (a new musical)
        The older kids did a musical I had never heard of.  'Winesburg Ohio' out of the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago, 2002, with book by Eric Rosen, music by Pluess and Sussman, based on short stories by Sherwood Anderson. This is dark, atmospheric piece that focuses on the stories and 'secrets' of the residents of a small town. In general terms it is a musial 'Our Town', small town life in early 1900s, though the plots lines are very different.

        Whole cast, as usual at Stoneham, were well prepared and did a very nice job. Musical accompaniment and scoring was very effective with keyboard (Mindy Cimini, music director) plus guitar and violin, who gets to briefly appear. The show revolves around 18 year old George Willard (Sam Witts, 5th show at Stoneham). Only one of the large cast I ever remember seeing before (Rebecca Lerman). Most impressive was the acting by George Willard's girlfriend (Grace Goddard?).

        I caught a brief homage to Our Town. When George and his girlfriend have finished talking, the girl (I think) says something like, 'I think this is an important conversation we have been having George". A search of famous lines from 'Our Town' repeatedly came up empty, but finally found it, "So," concludes George, "I guess this is an important conversation we've been having." (On further reading it's possible the homage is the other way around. It depends on whether that line is in Anderson's novel. Thornton Wilder's Our Town was written about two decades after Anderson's Winesburg of 1915-16.)

Stoneham Young Company Act III production Jan 2014